September 13, 2022
By Greg SelberClick here for game photos
Usually by this time of the year, it’s hot and heavy in the standings, with teams rising, some falling, others holding serve well enough. In district.
These days it feels like the 6A teams are off on Gilligan’s Island or something, as they watch the 5As and other levels below scrap and claw against their league competition. The three-hour cruise that is 6A in 2022 (and ‘23, as well) means that the Lady Bobcats, Cougars and Jags are still, still waiting to get going for the trophy run, which begins on Sept. 24.
Adding to the vertigo of realignment, the Endless Summer of non-district fare, is that it’s getting more difficult to find out just how everyone is doing, anyway, district or not. In the old days, there was a schedule in the newspaper the day of games, results after the fact, and weekly standings from each district. In 2022, thank the heavens for MaxPreps, because without it – incomplete though it may be at times – a lot of people would be absolutely lost. The changing nature of the media business, downsizing, the migration of content to the Web, all these things make it a tricky deal to figure out who’s done what to whom, and when.
Based on what information is available, some summation can be attempted, however. The three remaining 6A teams in town – Vela is well into its 5A league slate now with six matches done, another to come Saturday – have each played in excess of 20 times already. The not un-good thing about it is that they now have gotten a pretty fair taste of what will lie in store for the playoffs, should they make it that far after the brief 10-game schedule commences and completes.
To that end, EHS took on Brownsville Hanna Tuesday night at home, for yet another glance at what the Lower Valley district is all about in 2022. The Lady ‘Cats have now faced off six times with members of a group that forms its first-round playoff pool of possible opponents, including set-to’s versus Harlingen, Weslaco, Brownsville Rivera, and Los Fresnos; now Hanna also. They will not be in the dark at all when it comes to postseason action, provided they can churn through 31-6A to get to 32’s offerings.
EHS is now 17-8 after a simple straight-sets demolition of a struggling Lady Eagle outfit, and Tuesday was little more than a practice session, really, the opponent offering little in the way of real competition, sadly enough.
But coaches in the 6A loop have learned that this season they need to get creative in how they spin the narrative, finding ways to give their team physical lessons and psychological feedback and training. Most coaches admit that it has been tough to keep the kids motivated while they climb the mountain of non-league fixtures.
Nonetheless, it was VIP Night, or Teacher Appreciation, not sure which, but always a neat evening, if somewhat extended by ceremony, when the players invite and fete ECISD instructors who have made a difference in the lives through the moons on campus. Coach Deanna Sanchez, always innovative in approach and execution, thinks that the annual event plays dividends in various ways.
The teachers were given gifts and their bios were read by the coach as each person advanced to the fore, their students alongside. They all wore shirts that said “Dream, Believe, Achieve” on the back. That sort of tripartite sloganeering has become di rigueur these days because catchy sayings stick in the mind, are easy to remember from a mnemonic perspective, and sometimes really describe an important aspect of a situation.
“I think it is important to recognize our teachers for the impact they have on our kids,” Sanchez explained; she is always at the front when it comes to such events: team/family-building. “We’ve been doing it for a number of years, back to when Mr. Romo was principal here, and the goal is for the girls to be grateful, to realize how vital some of these people have been to their continued growth, as students but as people too.”
The game itself was over fast, with the Lady Bobcats cranking out their business and Hanna flailing to keep up. Each of the sets became an ordeal for the visitor, as EHS led 10-2 early in the first, 13-0 in the second, and amazingly enough, 17-0 in the third, to clinch its 17th victory against eight losses. It was tough to gauge the performance of the home side, which has definite designs on a title in the muster to come, but all appeared to be in order, from the excellence of setter Hailey Vega to the versatility of frontliner Emily Carranco, leavened by the indomitable hustle and noticeable progress from libero Ariella Ramirez.
Sanchez saw what there was to see from such a one-sided walkover, which is another step on the curve toward the matches that, at long last, will count.
“They are starting to ask, ‘Hey, when does district start again?’” she admitted. “We’ve played all the games we are allotted by UIL, but it has been a bit odd. During COVID it was odd, too, in another way: we didn’t have non-district, we just jumped right into district if you remember. Now it’s the opposite, and we have tried to work on keeping our focus on the game in front of us, on not worrying about things we cannot control. There’s a good lesson in that.”
As suggested, the Lady Bobcats have gotten a solid preview of what the playoffs might look like, having taken on the likes of Harlingen and Los Fresnos in recent weeks. The Lady Falcons, in particular, are looking awfully good right now, with a 25-5 record, while the Lady Cardinals have blasted their way through a tough schedule including tons of upstate comp, and come out seeming like a contender as well. Put it this way: finishing first or second in 31 will ensure that those schools will most likely bypass the two top clubs and contend against teams such as Rivera – great early start, subdued right now – San Benito, or Hanna. Conversely, a lower tier finish among the playoff seeds in 31, third or fourth, will almost guarantee a very hard road in bi-district, against the aforementioned leaders Los Fresnos and Harlingen. Of course, that 6A district hasn’t started league play yet, either, caramba!!
The other city schools have, like EHS, spent quite a lot of their early season run in against the same potential rivals for the postseason. Econ has won 11 times in 2022, as the Lady Jags have shown consistent effort and improvement. Heading into the latest action, Coach Christina Soto’s girls had won four of six, with both defeats coming in 5-set marathons. They beat Hanna and threw down with Rivera, Los Fresnos, Harlingen, and San Benito in non-league play. Econ will take on the final 32-6A crew, Weslaco, on the weekend as it prepares for the 31-6A opener, Sept. 24 at P-SJ-A. and it has played P-SJ-A, another league contender, Mission, plus rival North.
Thus, familiarity will not be a problem for anyone this season, as all will have taken shots at most of the teams they will battle for the league title. And that includes North, as the Lady Coogs, sitting at 15-8 right now, have traveled the same path as EHS and Econ. In fact, Econ and North have already met, in a tournament, while the Lady Coogs have tested Mission and P-SJ-A from their league and most of the group down south as well; a whopping seven outings against 32-6A clubs, to become eight after Saturday’s showdown v. Los Fresnos.
Coach Raul McCallum has certainly seen what he needs to see from his squad as it gets ready for the Sept. 24 debut against La Joya. The Lady Coyotes are one of those Bermuda Triangle teams in 2022, without a presence to speak of on MaxPreps. No one truly knows much about La Joya right now; they’ll find out soon enough what the eastern Hidalgo County crew has to offer.
AND THEN THEM
The outlier amid all this uncertainty is Vela, which has entered a very difficult district and shown that it will not go down without an extended fight. With an overall winning record, the Lady Sabes are bumping along below the playoff line right now, at 3-3, with wins against Tri-Cities foes Pharr North and P-SJ-A Southwest, as well as a victory over Valley View. They have yet to break through with a triumph over one of the elites – losses to early leader Sharyland plus the McAllen gauntlet units of Memorial and Rowe – but another shot at a signature effort arrives Saturday when fearsome traditional power McAllen High comes calling.
The upshot is: if Vela can string together a few upsets, whip the teams that are beatable, and get some fortuitous bounces along the way, a playoff spot is a distinct possibility. Meanwhile in the alternate universe of 31-6A, three city rivals do like their chances against La Joya, Mission, and even P-SJ-A, and the fact is: four of the six league teams will be postseason bound.
EHS’s Carranco, so quick, smart, and calm, an integral part of the plan for what lies ahead, says that the new alignment has had an impact, particularly when it comes to the Rivalry concept.
“I am definitely keeping up with them [Vela] to see how they are doing,” she advised after the Hanna victory was wrapped up. “I kind of wish we would be playing them twice, like it was in the past, but we are just playing who we play and trying to do well. We’ve had plenty of tough games, against Harlingen and Los Fresnos, some others, and it’s made us better, that’s what really matters: are we improving, getting better.”
As for the league race beginning in about a week, finally, Carranco spoke personally, and collectively.
“I have been coming back from an injury, so that’s been interesting,” she said. “I just now feel like I am back to where I need to be, out there. District is coming, so I think we will be really prepared to try and win, we know North and the Bears are doing pretty well, but all the teams will be competition. So we’ll see how it goes.”
Entering the court before the Hanna match Tuesday, the girls were serenaded by A$AP Ferg’s “New Level,” the hard-edged and relentless grind from 2015. It’s become an anthem of sorts, especially at sporting events, its beat and message gathering infinite meme- and comment-section pub. The title phrase is often used to opine on myriad real-life situations, from making a good grade no one expected you to make, to finding out something important you didn’t know.
The EHS teachers who were honored on Tuesday for their classroom contributions might also find the song instructive, though its tone and lyrics might be less familiar to them (lol, only the non-problematic parts were played Tuesday, note). And the girls were super happy to show, as their coach discussed, how much they value their mentors.
But soon, soon enough, the Lady Bobcats and the rest of the gang in the abbreviated district will indeed be on a new level. Starting Sept. 24, the matches will count for real, and it is high time for that, yay!