November 15, 2022
By Greg SelberClick here for select game photos
One must say that it has been a rousing start to girls’ basketball in town, as each of the four rivals has made some noise during the opening stretch of the season. From Econ’s 7-2 start, its best in recent memory, to Vela’s absolute humbling of perennial power Los Fresnos, 80-38 in town Tuesday, the early signs are promising all around.
North has already recorded three victories and shown increased offensive output so far, with a high of 65 against Mission Vets followed closely by a 61-point outburst against Brownsville Pace. And at EHS, the Lady Bobcats are up to their usual tricks with five wins in six tries so far, despite a spate of injuries.
Though the Lady SaberCats will not be competing with their rivals in 6A, as the two-year sojourn down to 5A commences, they bear watching as a probable No. 1 team in the land in time.
Coach Lottie Zarate is as always adamant about keeping her team’s focus on the task at hand, on a daily basis, but one cannot but be impressed with the effort against Los Fresnos, and what it suggests. The Lady Falcons have been consistent bellwethers for more than a decade, with a 66 percent winning mark and numerous playoff W’s. But Vela simply played the visitor out of the gym Tuesday behind a combined 53 points and 18 rebounds from the killer tandem of senior Emma Lucio and junior Janai Coleman. Those two led an aggressive Lady Sabe rush that put them up 37-14 at the half and despite a lack of proven depth, it was a dominant performance that should raise many an eyebrow around the Valley.
The Lady Sabes started the season up in San Antonio, winning three of four contests, including a 71-56 victory over an Antonian squad that has been very solid the past several moons. Zarate says that seeing competition of this nature, in a venue away from home, is important.
“We have had some tough tournament games but that’s good for us,” she explained. “In those type of games, against athletic teams, you have to do decision-making in a hurry, it makes you play faster, harder. Every pass, every loose ball, those teams will be on top of you, big time, and we need to learn how to handle that pressure.”
The coach added that with that experience under their belts, the girls will now face Valley competition buoyed by added confidence.
“We never take anyone for granted, ever,” she stressed. “But playing against the upstate teams will help you to use what you learned, in district. Everything we are doing is pointed toward district.”
For Vela, which knocked down seven threes against Los Fresnos and worked to a plus-13 margin on the boards, the league race will be interesting, and right now, Zarate’s team has to be considered a bona fide favorite. But any talk of titles, or of matching last season’s scintillating 33-3 masterclass, will not get any traction with the hard-charging mentor.
“If we continue to build our mental toughness, the type we had to have in winning some tourney games, that will hopefully translate into each district game,” she advised. “We’re headed to Floresville and same thing there; that tournament is going to be hard, some really good teams, even some good 4As, and it all builds toward district play, one game at a time.”
Along with Lucio and Coleman, who were human highlight vids in the surprisingly easy romp over Los Fresnos, Vela returns versatile vet Fey Vazquez, who does all the little things so well.
“Fey will hit the boards, and she runs the lane well, presents for the ball,” said Zarate of the lanky senior. “She does what she has to do to help us win.”
Without graduated banger Aneyda Chapa, who was a rebounding menace, Zarate is looking to other options for toughness on the new edition.
“Ava is a real battler, very aggressive kid who will get after it,” she said, about sophomore Ava Tovar, who logged dogged minutes versus Los Fresnos. “Not having Chapa makes us different in some ways, but really, every season is different. We’re not concerned with last year; we’re busy in this year. But we do need some kids to step up and play their part.”
One of those kids who is ready to do that is sophomore G.G. Betancourt, whose numbers have risen this season after an eventful trial by fire as a freshman.
“You can tell G.G. is improved and we really need her to be,” Zarate said. “She was thrown in there last season and she held her own, so now we are looking for her to take the next step. She’s driving more, has more confidence and with Lauren graduating, that is something we definitely want from her.”
Truly, with the loss of the memorable Lauren Vega and rugged Chapa, spots opened up in the rotation, and the early season has been about seeing who, besides the proven stars and their complements, can contribute on the varsity level. Tovar, junior Gaby Tijerina and a few others such as insider player Andrea Perez are filling in the cracks that the big-timers miss.
Against Los Fresnos, Lucio was red hot from the start with six in the first, while Coleman was equally amazing, scoring seven and starting a string of firecrackers that would lead to six bombs from her, along with 12 rebounds. Having two of the top 10 players in the Valley (5 probably) is fun for a coach and the fans, not so much for the opponents.
With an assortment of silky pullup jumpers, slicing drives to the dish, and laser passes, Lucio sure played like a DI signee, which she is, while the energetic Coleman, whose time is surely coming re: recruitment for the next level, was at times a step ahead of everyone Tuesday. Ability!
“The thing about Janai is her hustle, she will go after every ball, hard,” Zarate noted. “She’s just such an animal, aggressive but under control, and now we are working on other things with her. For instance, she is learning how to take the load on, lead the team: she may be sort of quiet, but she leads by example and effort, and it rubs off on everyone. And when she says something, believe me, the girls listen.”
The 80 points the Lady Sabes registered threw shades of last season, when the team eclipsed the 80-point mark twice against North, once against Lincoln, and bettered 70 on four other occasions. In 2022-23 they’ve also put 74 up there, versus San Benito, and will try to keep that offensive prowess cranking up in Floresville.
RENAISSANCE ON THE WAY?
High scoring is something this year’s Lady Jag group can identify with, after having stomped Progreso at home Tuesday, 73-44. In the first length of the season, Coach Mari Campos has gotten a tad more accuracy from her shooters, especially senior Dana Serna, who put four 20-point ball games in the books during the club’s 7-2 start. With experienced role players Jaylene Corona and Bianca Coronado doing their bit and sophomores Brianna Maldonado (post) and Nirel Salinas (guard) pitching in, Econ likes its chances of competing for a playoff spot and duplicating the job that the volley kids did in breaking a postseason drought, a few weeks back.
READY FOR BATTLE
As Serna handles a heavy scoring load for the Orange, so too does little jitterbug Jayli Rivera. The 4-10 powerpack from North busted the net for 30 points in the team’s 51-36 triumph over Mission Vets recently, after having torched McAllen Memorial and Pace for 22 and 23 markers, respectively. Trusty point guard Zoey Gaytan is back for her senior season, replete with game moxie, and in the nascent stags of the slate, Coach Marah Guzman has gotten consistent production from junior Kaylah Lozano, a highly touted sharpshooter who appears to be coming good.
The Lady Coogs lost some inside muscle to graduation but have some replacements currently learning the paint ropes. A number of underclassmen have seen time in the rotation as North seeks to rebound from a trying but necessary transition season and start to climb up the ladder once again.
Emily Carranco of EHS knows all about the ladder as she has more than done her part to keep the Lady ‘Cats on a high rung for two seasons, now starts the third. In the team’s 41-39 win against a tough Brownsville Vets program, the deceptive junior was astounding with 26 points, eight boards, and seven steals. Like Vela, the Lady ‘Cats have a couple of shining stars and a host of others looking to rise up and be counted in 2022-23. With Carranco, Kiki Fagan, and Maddy Martinez, Coach J.D. Salinas has a trifecta to challenge any such trio in the area.
Lucero Jimenez is a gutty, smart gal who has been around and same with Tara Moreno. One interesting note from the early going was the 13-point output from sophomore Sydnie Brenner against Brownsville Hanna. That sort of production from quarters heretofore unknown could put EHS over the top should it become a steady habit.
WHAT LIES AHEAD
The Lady Bobcats will try their talent and luck at the annual Border Bash in McAllen in a few days, including a test against a Laredo Nixon crew that is always a handful. After that, home dates with Laredo United South and Pioneer follow. Econ will be at Lyford Monday against a solid lower-level squad and then goes to P-SJ-A Southwest Nov. 29, while North will be at La Feria Friday and then at home to Pioneer Tuesday before a road game at Harlingen South.