February 10, 2023
By Greg SelberClick here for select game gallery
One has come to expect a certain continuity out east, over the years, from the ubiquitous Friday night grilling escapades and exuberant porras, to the generally excellent football on the pitch. While they didn’t prepare a barbecue feast at the most recent Econ doubleheader, there are certainly two new cooks in the Jaguar kitchen, and each has whipped up some tasty options as 2022-23 matures.
For the Econ boys, it’s Juan Rodriguez – gobs more about him in an accompanying article – and for the girls, its Kristie Jarquin. After seeming eons featuring Sam Gonzalez and Robert Garcia as a sort of East Side coaching tag team, new blood has entered the equation, with Jarquin seeking to make the most of her new opportunity. Compact and steadfast on the touchline, the former central midfielder who was involved in college soccer at Texas State says that life in the Valley has treated her well. Originally from the Houston area, Jarquin took her team into battle with EHS Friday in the second District 31-6A match of the slate, after the Lady Jags had defeated P-SJ-A 2-0 in the opener, EHS having topped Mission.
It was a fierce struggle for 80 minutes, both sides giving and taking liberally in the physicality department, and as is sometimes the case with a match of intensity and hard licks, there were no goals. None, that is, until the penalty shootout, which was won by Coach Cerjio Elizarraraz’s Lady Bobcats, leaving EHS tied for first with North, the Lady Jags a point behind.
“We played well, I thought so, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles sometimes,” Jarquin said after the closely contested Rivalry Game. “It could have gone either way.”
After the Lady ‘Cats won the shootout and went bananas, the Econ side was quiet as a tomb, and such is the way it unfolds in sudden death. Despite the drop of two points, the Orange was solid in this home appearance and will certainly be a leading light in contention for the playoffs, a feat the squad achieved last season in the swan song for Garcia, who attended the match Friday to cheer on the kids and his successor.
“Every possession counts, so we have to make the most of them,” Jarquin told her assembled crew after a bout that wore down the players, coaches, refs, and fans … and the administrators, and that is something we come to anticipate when these two ancient foes get together. It almost would seem odd and unusual if there were not the occasional tiff from stands to field, sometimes back.
The rookie mentor made sure her kids knew that one game does not a season make. Her motto so far has been, “practice makes permanent,” and Jarquin considered the match just completed to be part of the drill.
“We have to be hungry in front of goal … now, we will see them [Lady ‘Cats] again in the second half, we’ll get another chance,” said Jarquin, hooking a thumb back across the field, where EHS was still milling about in celebration. “Pick your heads up and let’s get ready to work, we need to get ready for Mission!”
BACK AND FORTH
The latest Lady Jag edition has some seasoned veterans sprinkled around the green, up front and in back. Jackie Maldonado, who was to spend a busy 80 minutes in attack, knows that her sister Josselyn is secure in goal, and those two are returning starters off last year’s group. In front of the keeper are a couple of rough customers in defense, Desiree and Dulce Martinez, and each was in control Friday, especially the nimble and hard-nosed Dulce, who turned in a simply flawless evening of work, absolute Girl of the Match, No. 8.
The midfield is a new contingent for the most part and had its hands full keeping up with the elegant and elusive Amily Rodriguez of EHS, who was baffling on the dribble, shooting passes to the wings and making for nervy times in the Econ back. Jarquin’s stoppers did the job in the Rivalry Game, taking great pains to keep Rodriguez in check, which is not an easy muster most nights. Orange freshman Natalie Barrios, a stout little newcomer, was engaged in a battle with Rodriguez and her rugged EHS teammate, Adaia Tebaul, for the duration, making for intermittent and crushing hip and shoulder collisions in the center of the park. They flat got after it!
Early in the night, Barrios – who shows solid passing chops off the turn and some proper aggression, the willingness to get stuck in – sent one hurtling into the box, leading to an EHS free kick that went harmlessly to goal, three minutes in. it was a brisk evening, in the low 50s, but dry and without much wind, making it a cool night to play.
The Lady Jags next went riding down the right to a decent shot attempt, and had it not been for Lady ‘Cat defender Denise Guerrero, who angled over to harry the try, the home side might have gotten on the board.
At the other end, two defenders collided for Econ when Rodriguez made a slick feed to Stef Rodriguez, but the home side recovered in time. This led to a counter by the Orange as Jackie Maldonado barreled down to shoot wide. Maldonado will work and work and work, often banging the ball off defenders in almost a self-passing style, and as she puts herself about, it opens space for teammates. Very effective player.
In the initial stages, Jarquin got good mileage out of tall and strong midfielder Angela Elizondo, who has a cannon attached to her right leg and pounded the occasional long one into the area, looking for Maldonado. Elizondo hammered one 35 yards to a goal catch on 30 minutes and for the opening segment, the East Side was on the good foot. A. Rodriguez of the visitor was buffeted by two and three Lady Jags much of the night and had to work through the tangle with vision and footwork, yes, but also some toughness. Unlike many highly skilled players, Rodriguez is not shy of contact and will mix it up when need be. Elbows, sharp. No shrinking violet there.
Starting to find their pattern, the Lady Bobcats worked right, through winger Emily De la Garza and fleet Olivia Ruiz, until Dulce Martinez sidled over to break up the party with a clever intervention at 24:15.
Martinez was just everywhere Friday, stolid and calm, certain on tackles, and adept at bringing the ball forward after gaining possession. She got Barrios a nice thru ball which the youngster turned into an eventual shot from distance, and this was a challenge for both sides: The final pass in the attacking third eluded the teams for the most part, as they at times settled for quick attempts from range, out of eagerness on one hand, stern denial from the D on the other.
On 14 minutes came the best chance so far in a scoreless slugfest as Econ got a toe poke from Barrios near goal and when the ball went right and wide, Econ senior Anahi Luna saved it near the byline, cracking it back across the face of goal. Maldonado was fouled shortly thereafter as the Lady Jags strained for the first goal, but EHS weathered the ensuing free kick well enough.
With A. Rodriguez and S. Rodriguez – the latter is back from a lengthy absence through injury – starting to operate, the pace quickened now.
It took a step-in from Dulce Martinez, who faced a 1-on-2 situation but was able to nick the ball and weave out of trouble, to put the fire out as EHS came close. Tennis match: another big ball from Elizondo followed, Maldonado winning the race on the right and almost slotting home on 10 minutes.
Econ kept churning with effect until Ashley Tamayo of EHS elevated for a karate clearance right in front, and after Kariely Reyes controlled and passed in one sharp movement, A. Rodriguez and S. Rodriguez came flying downfield. But again, there was captain Dulce, coolly making the necessary adjustment to stem that tide.
On one of the last major sequences of the half, Econ raced down again looking for glory until Mia Checa bowed up for a super header to clear the ball. Thus ended the first 40, each having had a chance or two, both defenses having done due diligence.
Action re-commenced with a fabulous moment in back from EHS, as the trusty defender Sarai Rios came up to perfectly trap a long ball by Econ, controlling and passing upfield in one flourish. Gifted with range and athleticism, Rios also continued to show immense strength on throws, leaning back and lifting one leg high in front on the approach, usually sending the ball over the first line of defense, into more valuable territory; what an asset she is.
Her offensive teammate A. Rod was now getting some space and danced to a free kick from 20 yards out early in the half. When it later rebounded back to her, she again drew a foul and a set piece opportunity, right outside the area. However, the Martinez girls and Joss Maldonado, firm to this point, would not yield.
On offense now, the Lady Jags got a ball into the box off the foot of Maria Amaya, and this eventuated in a Maldonado move that drew a foul. Much of the action Friday was in the midsection of the field; certainly both sides will be working on patience in looking for the additional pass, which is tough under such constant pressure. It seemed like this match was a dam, pent-up energy, waiting to burst at the hint of a mistake from either rival.
Barrios, the sturdy freshman, almost did the trick when her bouncing shot clinked off the post at 34:10, Lady Bobcat keeper Rocio Pulido sliding over to snatch the carom. As they had done in the first half, the Lady Jags were starting to surge, as Desiree Martinez sneaked up from the back to record a shot on goal from the right elbow, the EHS D scrambling to find the marker. Just so, the Lady ‘Cats emerged from that difficulty to see A. Rod locate a striding Cassie Cuellar, and the slim EHS attacker almost got in.
Elizarraraz and Co. appeared to then take the lead in the affair, scoring at 30:43 when the ball was grabbed by Maldonado in Econ goal but was lost in translation. It was De la Garza who smacked it home but a foul on the keeper nixed the goal. Still, this near miss enlivened the visitor, which then put together another strong sequence, one that was only foiled when Dulce Martinez was again on the spot to surgically dismantle the problem.
When Econ retooled to come upfield, left back Maxine Flores of the Lady Bobcats was there to stop the possibility, though Econ’s Romina Alvarado had gotten into the box with some promise.
Thusly awakened by a fearsome EHS stretch of play, the Lady Jags rebooted with Maldonado on the run and Luna popping a try into the area. On 23 minutes, Maldonado was exquisite with a header, with her back to goal, a bit of flick with some pace, and it troubled Pulido and the D. No scratch, however and now it seemed that PKs was a distinct possibility.
Not before, however, a few more flares went up, notable from a strong shot by Maldonado, after which Econ earned a yellow card for its fierce rush against the Lady ‘Cats. Later, a free kick by the East Siders flew just past the frame.
A. Rod and Ruiz combined well in the late ticks, and at one stage, the former stood on the ball and slipped a sweet sideways pass to a running teammate. But of course, there was Dulce for Jags, seeing the play and getting to the spot in fine shape. Instinctive defender. Down the stretch it was EHS looking like maybe with a bomb to goal, only to have Maldonado glove it after a bobble and pitch to safety. Barrios and Elizondo answered that with a slick maneuver resulting in a shot and at 8:54, all breathless girls rested momentarily, during injury stoppage. As the penalty session loomed, Checa of EHS again provided a timely clearance via her head, with her friends roaring down for a pair of shots, Destyni Garza fashioning one of them. After one more breakneck scamper from Maldonado of Econ, it was nil-nil, time to carve out the denouement.
Jarquin’s gang put itself in jeopardy by missing an early spot kick (second), and EHS was waiting for the opening, as one after the other A. Rod (low left); Tebaul (back to her right); and S. Rod. converted. When the Lady Jags went off the bar on their fourth try, up stepped De la Garza, who slid the winner past, giving her side the two, the Lady Jags settling for the one.
In sum, there was little to separate these two on Friday, as the scoreline indicates. The new-look Lady Jags have not skipped a beat with Jarquin at the helm, and the coach said that her kids have met her expectations so far, regarding work ethic and determination. Her side will be on the road next week against Mission and La Joya, while EHS faces the Lady Coyotes at home Tuesday ahead of a vital trip to North Friday to oppose the Lady Cougars of Coach Marianna Watson.
It took a while to get here to district, with an endless journey of non-district football, but if this match is what it’s going to be like in 31-6A this season, good on for it, indeed. Very competitive night.