March 23, 2022
By Greg Selber
This year’s bi-district round of the soccer playoffs is somewhat like the seemingly interminable Marvel superhero film franchise: a few differences but largely the same thing, again.
Of the three scheduled matches featuring city sides from 31-6A, two are rematches from a year ago, and one is a half-remake. North will take on Harlingen, after the Lady Cougars were defeated by the Lady Cardinals in bi-district 2021. Vela will get another crack at Harlingen South and will seek to score a triumph similar to last season’s 4-1 humbling of the Lady Hawks. And Los Fresnos is back in the action again this season, against upstart Economedes; in 2021 the Lady Falcons defeated EHS in the first round and will now battle the Lady Jags, who have enjoyed a renaissance for their first postseason appearance since the championship campaign of 2016.
Coach Robert Garcia knows his Lady Jags face an uphill struggle against a Los Fresnos side that allowed just four goals in district, scoring 61. But as he prepared to bring his kids into the fray for the last time – he will retire at season’s end – he is unworried about any of that.
“Proud might be an understatement, we are super extremely proud,” he said. “Especially knowing that I think we surprised a lot of people to end up third in our district. I think the whole team has improved so much throughout the year.”
Econ got it done this season with a consistent effort during the 31-6A schedule. After a 3-3 start – which augured well for the future after a 2-1 victory over North – the Orange got on a roll, following a 7-0 loss to Vela with a 5-game winning streak. The streak included three penalty kicks victories, including against city rivals North and EHS. The former PK result figured prominently in the final standings, as Econ ended tied with the Lady Coogs on 30 points but gained the higher seed due to the season sweep.
“Overall, it’s been a season to remember for us.” Garcia commented. “The girls realized that making the playoffs is what we play for. They bought into it and now we are back competing at a higher level.”
The last time Econ made the grade was back in 2016, when they won the league, clipped Brownsville Vets in bi-district, and then dropped out in area with a slim 1-0 loss to Del Rio. The program was a regular in the playoffs back then, as 2016 marked its fourth straight appearance in the postseason.
That the Lady Jags are back in it this year is down to hustle and determination, with senior defensive ace Neyda Garcia as a dominant figure with help from junior Dulce Martinez, among others in back. Senior Anahi Luna has been an inspirational force by battling through injuries to contribute to the excellent season, while junior midfielder Stephanie Moreno has added toughness in the middle of the park.
This Los Fresnos club is going to be hard to crack. The Lady Falcons gained revenge on EHS in 2021 for a 2019 loss in bi-district and won three times in the playoffs before losing at the regional stage, to Round Rock. Econ, though, should be rested for the war, having had the last week off.
“We will watch film on them; from what we have heard, they are tough,” Garcia said. “They got a little weaker because of injuries but they will be a tough out. We have definitely needed the break to recover, too.”
It’s been a fine time to be on the East Side lately, after the softball program of Coach Sammy Arciba recorded its first win over Vela in school history and the powerlifting team of Coach Cruz Gaitan hoisted a handful of championships at the state meet. Garcia’s football girls are hoping to continue the vibe with a standout performance of their own. The chance comes Thursday at home, at 6:30 p.m.
NORTH TO OPPOSE HARLINGEN AGAIN
Coach Marianna Watson’s first foray as leader of her alma mater has culminated in success, as the Lady Cougars got into the Dance, to face two-time 32-6A champ Harlingen in the first round. The game will come off Friday at North, starting at 7 p.m.
Like Econ, North has been hot in recent weeks, taking five matches in a row before a defeat against champ Juarez-Lincoln in the finale. It is a typical Lady Coog side in many ways, with a strong defense and excellent goalkeeping. In 10 of 16 matches, Watson’s gang held the opponent to one goal or less, but it will be tested by the Lady Cardinals, who outlasted Los Fresnos to win the Lower Valley league by 2 points.
Like North, this side is defensive-minded, having allowed one goal or less in 14 of 16 32-6A matches. The Lady Cards were undefeated through 14 tries before losing to Los Fresnos, 2-0; they then allowed two goals in a victory over Hanna to close out the crown.
In the playoffs of 2021, Harlingen knocked off North, 3-1 before being decked by SA Brennan, 4-0. In 2019, same story, as Harlingen got past North but dropped out in area against Lincoln. The Lady Coogs, winless in their last six postseason matches, have collected 13 playoff victories since the program began, with the last bi-district success coming in 2014 over Laredo United South. The Lady Coogs stand 0-3 against Harlingen, also having lost to the Lady Cards way back in 2003.
VELA IN REMATCH WITH SOUTH
The boot is somewhat on the other foot for the Lady SaberCats, as they prepare for a bi-district bout against Harlingen South. The two squared off in Harlingen last season with Coach Americo Cortez’s group coming out on top, 4-1. The Lady Hawks, long one of the Valley’s best, are seeking to return to that perch, while Vela – which went three-deep last season for the second time in program history – is now the established powerhouse.
Cortez saw his touch-fine side complete an outstanding run in 31-6A, as the Lady Sabes vied for the title all the way, coming a close second to Lincoln after having clinched the trophy in 2020 (co) and 2021. This group posted six shutouts, allowed only one goal in six other matches, and put 58 balls into the net in 16 outings. They split with Lincoln, winning the second round try, 3-2, and only penalty kick situations (won against EHS, lost to North) kept them from sharing the silverware.
South, meanwhile, won nine times in 32-6A to finish third, overcoming a midseason slow stretch to ride into the playoffs with momentum. The Lady Hawks lost twice to Harlingen and Los Fresnos, splitting with Hanna. They shut six opponents out and limited five others to just one goal, with six sophomore starters who competed in the bi-district loss to Vela last season.
After making the regional round with a senior-laden bunch in 2019 thanks to three playoff wins, the Lady Hawks have rebuilt the dynasty and are seeking to knock off a Valley titan this time in Vela. It speaks to what Cortez has done at the school that the Lady Hawks are now the underdog, fighting to avoid a second successive loss to the talented Lady Sabes.
Vela has had its share of injury issues this season, so the break between the 31-6A finale and bi-district has been a welcome one for the Blue and Black. The Lady Sabes play at South, Thursday at 6:30 p.m.