February 28, 2023
By Greg SelberClick here for select game gallery
At either end of the green on Tuesday, also intermittently in the middle of the park, there seemed to be a Maldonado pouring forth, with a vocal blast of encouragement or a sudden shout of exuberance. Or a superb moment of performance, followed by roars of happiness from a soccer side churning toward a trophy.
Yes, Econ went roadward and put together a masterful outing against EHS, bowling the Lady Bobcats over for 80 minutes of a key 31-6A clash, storming to a no-doubt 4-0 triumph. And it gives the Lady Jags – led by their rock-solid new coach, Kristie Jarquin – a leg up on the standings, i.e., a 4-point lead with three matches to go. And it was a true team effort, as the cliché goes, with all gals working hard, the Lady ‘Cats sprinting a step behind for most of the action.
This season’s Lady Jag contingent has depth and experience, moxie to burn from a physical bunch of kids who have bulk, surprising quickness, and real belief in team quality. And of course, Maldonados.
The Sister Act was dominant on Tuesday, forward Jackie crashing through the D to a pair of high-class goals from distance and goalkeeper Joselin bumping and setting to a tremendous evening in the crease. The third member of the Name Game group, Alba, was rugged as always, part of a bone-crushing series of defending midfield players also including Angela Elizondo and Simone Ramirez.
Bottom line for this clash: The Orange was tougher, harder, unyielding, ready to avenge a PKs loss suffered against the Lady ‘Cats when last the two sides met, during the first half of district play. Sending two and three defenders at a time against the on-ball wizard of EHS, Amily Rodriguez, the Lady Jags fairly squelched the enemy attack, keeping them out of the area for the most part, crunching them with double-teams and tackles on the occasion that the home side could manage to penetrate the midfield forest.
With the indefatigable Jackie Maldonado bombing them in, and little tiger Steph Moreno also netting a brace, Jarquin’s club had all the firepower it needed to gain a key result. The stingy defense and the agile Joselin Maldonado were equal to every challenge. The result of the result is that the side is closer than ever to a title; after having made the playoff grade last season, the Lady Jags have kept the momentum going and will tackle Mission, La Joya, and North now to hopefully, from their standpoint, finish the job.
Conversely, it was a disappointing denouement for a dangerous EHS crew that has played well this season and now sits on 14 points ahead of Friday’s meeting at La Joya, this versus a third-place Lady Coyote band that can tie the Lady ‘Cats for No. 2 with a clean result. North, expected to climb to 11 points if it can defeat cellar-dwelling P-SJ-A to end the vital, penultimate week, has also been competitive, giving the city three engaging 6A units to observe as the girls’ soccer season percolates to the conclusion.
The Lady Jags were able to get goals at the proper times Tuesday, including a biggie inside the last eight minutes of the first half. And all the while, Jarquin’s warriors took the fight to the foe, arriving first for most maybe balls, slamming around causing havoc, and generally owning the pitch. The deft midfield passing the Lady ‘Cats specialize in never got untracked, their feeds to the wings continually disrupted by hustling Lady Jags – here, the Martinez pair of Dulce and Desiree were iron – and by and large, the performance established Econ as the leading contender to take the cheese home.
Jarquin is quick to deflect praise from herself, and onto the girls, a refreshing outlook, though most would also argue that her steady hand has very much enabled the side to realize its potential in 2022-23. She is not a yeller but will keep up a stream of cogent commentary and gentle exhortation from the touch line. Reminders, details, mental focus. She is locked in, attention unrelenting.
“It’s all to the girls and what they have achieved so far,” said the coach before the first kick of a telltale match. “They have the experience and the talent, we’ve just been working on improving, as individuals but more importantly as a team. All I ask of them is that they play with heart, stay together, and they know that if we do that, we’ll be alright.”
Before the whistle, Jarquin’s assistant coach walked into the huddle and suggested the team “shine [bright] like a diamond,” and the Lady Jags chuckled heartily at the pop culture reference, and at the message therein. Then they proceeded to do just that.
BLOWING WHICH WAY?
EHS commenced with the wind at its back and riding a 3-game winning streak, but Econ was undaunted. Moreno, who did not play in the first Rivalry Match, got an early shot thanks to a sharp pass from lengthy strider Mayte Ruiz. Later the Lady Jags started using one of their weapons, long balls deep into the night off the boot of Elizondo, among others. When defending ace Dulce Martinez knocked a free kick into the area, only a sure catch from keeper Vivian Casares of EHS kept the score level.
When EHS got a play going, it was Ramirez stepping in to break it up, almost doing the splits during the tackle. The Lady ‘Cats won it back, a Rodriguez pass to winger Emily De la Garza looking promising until once again Econ was able to deflect, aggressive Maria Amaya doing the work.
Ten minutes in, Maldonado ran under a soaring long ball left. Normally she will see much time on the right, but the versatile senior seemed to be everywhere Tuesday, popping up here and there and using her body as a teammate, bundling the ball down and hopping forward with alacrity. Her ball skills have gotten better this season, her instincts for goal remain exceptional.
And yet EHS was energizing, with youthful Olivia Ruiz using her speed and athleticism to find some space. Ruiz appeared to be in on goal on 29 minutes until the metronome Dulce Martinez cracked into her with hip and shoulder down deep to the EHS left. Martinez has the ability to use her strength in difficult scenarios, and not get whistled for it: very high football IQ. The other Martinez, Desiree, taller and more angular, was to turn in a wonderful shift against EHS, darting in to kick away, ranging over to get in the way. Jarquin says that Des is always in “stealth mode,” seeming to just appear at the right time and with the right defensive move. She, Des, now made two sharp deflections to turn the Lady ‘Cats back and with half the half elapsed, the first signs of frustration started to surface from the home side.
Still, Coach Cerjio Elizarraraz and Co. were going to battle and when De la Garza made a steal, here came the Lady ‘Cats. Every time such a thing happened though, someone, or more than one someone, was on the spot for Econ to mop up. When defending whiz Sarai Rios volleyed a clearance that sailed some 30 yards upfield, the Econ D read the play and reacted, stopping the chance en masse.
The EHS defense then made a nice moment, as Mia Checa and Denise Guerrero jumped Maldonado before she could get going, turning the ball over. However, captain Reyna Vazquez of Econ won it back and produced a shot on goal at 18 minutes. The Lady Jags were just faster to the ball on this night. In the midsection, Econ’s Moreno and Adi Tebaul of EHS engaged in some fierce collisions, neither kid giving a centimeter. Enforcer alert there, bam!
And it wasn’t just Route 1 long ones Tuesday for Econ, as Dulce Martinez controlled in her area, found Elizondo for the linkup, and watched as her teammate whipped a pass to stocky newcomer Natalie Barrios at midline. The Orange can put the ball on the deck at times, though it prefers the quick looper to a rushing Maldonado, somewhat like the sides of old would outlet to the cannonball also known as Maria Rocha.
At 14 minutes, EHS nearly dented the scoreboard on a corner kick, Rodriguez close with a header, Joselin Maldonado gloving the try up high. At that, Moreno led a breakout counter for Econ, leading to a shot. The Lady Jags had the answers Tuesday, and almost tallied on a free kick soon after, Casares punching out the attempt.
Coach Eli’s kids then came down for another foray, ending in a swerving free kick from Rodriguez that landed just on top of the goal, at 11:35, best chance so far. This in the midst of a surge from the Lady ‘Cats, who needed to get at least one goal with the wind before turning to face it in the second half. But Econ was steely, Desiree Martinez knifing in to defend, Amaya popping one 30 yards downfield. But EHS was also playing sound D now. When Maldonado got loose in the corner, the determined Guerrero steamed over to interrupt; Guerrero has impressive lateral movement to go with considerable lower body strength.
A defensive lapse from the home side now, and Maldonado was able to turn from 20 yards out, far left, cutting in on her right foot to slam a ball into the net at 7:21. Rodriguez got the ball off the restart and immediately broke some ankles with slick slaloming soccer skills. Uh-oh! Always a crowd pleaser, with her smooth and confident ownership of the ball.
Next, Vazquez shimmied free for a lefty try for the Lady Jags, followed by an EHS counter on which Alba Maldonado was there to subvert the surge with a well-placed hip. In the final stages, Jarquin’s phalanx of hard-edged girls nearly slotted another goal, EHS firefighter Guerrero getting there just in time. Econ had tipped the field in its favor now, and the Lady ‘Cats would have to regroup.
One minute in to the second, EHS was bullish, rolling to a free kick from the 30-yard line that Maldonado rose to catch in Econ goal. Volleyball is her main game, but Joselin was talked into coming to football by her sister and the team is that much more excellent because of it. Both Jackie M. and her coach say that Joselin continues to improve with every match, a natural athlete learning the ropes of a second sport. And Tuesday the keeper was keeping.
Meanwhile, Rodriguez of the Lady ‘Cats, who had been cracked repeatedly during the first 40 minutes, was summoning all brands of magic to try and get some elbow room, but it was tough going against the double- and triple-teams that Jarquin unleashed. The Orange knew that for EHS, it starts with Amily, and game-planned accordingly, making the talented sophomore give the ball up or face multiple obstacles in traffic. Both teams were a bag of bruises after this grueling affair.
Elizondo has drawn raves from her coach, and showed her quick feet now, touching the ball back behind her while facing her own goal, spinning quickly to take it upfield. Not just a battering ram and free kick machine, Elizondo can remind one at times of last year’s talisman, Neyda Garcia, who helped drive the East Side bus back to the postseason under former coach Robert Garcia.
The Lady ‘Cats were flummoxed at every turn, and now were penalized with a yellow card, after Amaya of Econ was first to a ball and elicited excessive contact from an attacking Lady ‘Cat. Soon it was Maldonado on the left once again, using her improved left foot to get into range for a shot, which plinked the nylons on 33 minutes, a 2-nil advantage the outcome.
At the other end, Maldonado the keeper hollered her orders.
“Zero-zero, ladies, zero-zero!” she bellowed, clapping her gloves strongly as her sister and the others milled about joyously in the aftermath of the strike. Soon she, Joselin was called into action for one of seven saves she would make, most on high balls. EHS never managed to get shots on goal that were on the ground or to the posts, as ferocious defensive effort from its rival kept high-percentage chances to a minimum.
News flash: Dulce Martinez was active in the half, stepping in here and running to stop attackers there, backline friend Desiree expert at sliding in to deflect and disturb. What a pair. Dulce is one of at least three Orange regulars who gets the job done in eyeglasses, and perhaps enhanced vision is an attribute of this year’s edition: they all seem to see the game, read the play, and get there to execute. Not a particularly flashy side, like a Vela or Memorial, EHS at times, more a workmanlike group with all kinds of desire. Physically punishing.
As the Lady ‘Cats strained to get back into it, Econ dug in, Maldonado making another catch in the sky, with a little pop-up into the air, a la volleyball, and Alba Maldonado standing strong against the next EHS chance.
The air went out of the home balloon for good with a searing Moreno goal from the left side at 22:32, as she and Maldonado were just rampant now, tearing through a tiring EHS defense. When Rodriguez and the Lady ‘Cats marshaled the ball and advanced, Desiree was there to scissor kick a clearance and release a teammate in the process. As the game went to its end, Moreno again entered the score sheet with an effort from distance, making it 4-nil, as the Lady Jags had put the lie to the old Wind Game adage. Having put three into the net into the wind during the half, Econ had created its own rules, so to speak.
Maldonado, who now leads the league with eight goals, birthday girl Rodriguez of EHS still on six after the shutout, was jazzed as can be afterward.
“We decided to switch it up, so I was on the left a lot more than usual,” said the bespectacled hustler. “I have been working on the left foot, controlling the ball, and I think I have improved somewhat. As for Joselin, well, I knew she could do this, she started last year as a sophomore and she has just gotten so much better. Ha, I kinda made her get in, she never really liked soccer that much, volleyball was it for her … but look at her now, she’s doing a great job!”
Jarquin, who has driven this ship to within a few turns of the title buoy, was ready to compliment each of her girls, including the powerful stopper Elizondo, her Martinez defensive demons, and the Maldonado contingent.
“Plus, Stefany, she is a tough kid, she will fight you every play,” said Jarquin of Moreno. “Joselin came in from volleyball and she has worked really hard. All these girls have; they’ve bought in and improved, done the work, and now it’s paying off. Like I told you, our goal is to play with heart, play as a team, and so far, so good. We’re not finished yet though, we have to be ready to finish this thing. Right now, it’s one game at a time, we don’t want to be looking too far in the future. We can enjoy this, but then it’s back to work!”