VET, YOUTH MIX AUGERS WELL FOR SALINAS’ GROUP

PALMVIEW – The season has just begun but the Lady Bobcats are off and running, as always. Ranked No. 1 in the Valley to start the latest girls’ basketball campaign, EHS hounded Palmview here Tuesday, 68-20, exhibiting the same star power seen in recent slates, but offering glimpses of the sort of depth that will definitely help out in 2017-18. And beyond.

Observers of the Lady ‘Cats can always count on Jayla Santa Maria, reigning MVP and among the best in program history, right up there with Marah Guzman and Michelle Martin, among others. In the season opener, she went for a cool 25 points, including a fantastic stretch in the third quarter during which she sank five 3-pointers in succession.

Sister Jenessah, vastly improved as a junior according to her coaches and older sister, played at high speed with very few mistakes, scoring 10 points and making some amazing plays. She broke a poor kid’s ankles to pull up for a second half jumper, and a few plays later absorbed contact yet still whipped a pass to an open teammate under the basket.

And then there was dogged Mercedes Hernandez, who was just as she always is, forcing turnovers and leading the break the other way; she had a dozen points against the overmatched Lady Lobos, and there is your Big Three, again.

The rest of the cast is going to be lethal at times, with three promising freshmen in the mix, most prominently a gal named A’nnika Saenz, a long and lean 5-8 guard with range on the J and an obviously fine understanding of the game already. She knocked in a couple of bombs, ran the point for a while, and generally stood out with her skills.

“People don’t know about her yet because she’s a freshman, but they will find out quickly,” said Coach J.D. Salinas, who took his crew over to Weslaco for a tournament Thursday-Saturday. “A’nnika has a high basketball IQ and I think she is going to develop for us real well, she has the green light to shoot it, put it that way.”

Saenz will see her share of minutes, as will dependable Alyssa Jade Salinas and the two-headed post inside, Bri Sanchez and Dani Rivas. Rivas in particular showed signs of real productivity Tuesday by fighting for loose balls, staying upright on the blocks without reaching, and canning a couple of short shots after hustling downcourt on the secondary break. Her contribution will allow the Lady ‘Cats to rest Sanchez and keep both girls out of foul trouble more readily.

EHS has another pair of fish out there, Julissah Santa Maria (yes) and Daysha Tijerina, who come off the volleyball season ready to give Salinas the best depth he has had in some time. In all, it looks like the team was a fine choice for preseason No. 1.

“It’s hard to believe, I was writing the lineups in and for Mercedes and Jayla I just wrote ‘junior’ next to their name,” Salinas chuckled. “But this is it, they’re seniors now, wow, that threw me for a second. I think we have some girls who can come in and spell them, and we don’t lost too much of a step.”

The coach noted that right now he and long-time assistant George Olvera are working on team approach in the early going.

“We want them to come out and have fun with the game,” Salinas explained. “Make it easy, do the things you know you can do. Don’t make it hard on yourselves, that’s our goal this year among others.”

It was like that against Palmview, as three quick steals led to layups at the other end, and by the time the Lady Lobos started to breathe it was 16-2. Seven different Lady Bobcats scored in a first period that ended with the visitor in front by 15. It was 21 at the half and 37 after three as EHS dismissed a foe that will probably have trouble competing in District 30-6A this season.

The Red and Blue crew knows that tougher times are ahead, and its members are ready. Even Jayla Santa Maria has some goals of improvement for herself.

“Got to hit the boards more, get more rebounds,” she said. “Plus, I want to be a more accurate shooter. If you look at our team, I think we could be even better than last year. Jenessah has really worked hard to improve; I can tell she really wants it. And A’nnika, well, what can I say? She can play!”

NOTES: The Lady Bobcats breezed by their first four opponents at the Mid-Valley Classic in Weslaco, including a victory over high-scoring Harlingen. Then they scored a 10-point win over high-ranked Weslaco before suffering their initial loss of the year, by 3 to McAllen Memorial.

Econ started slowly with just 17 points in its first two losses at Weslaco, and got improved scoring in the next two defeats. The Lady Jags broke into the win column Saturday, over Roma.

Vela began the run with a 28-point win against Rowe while North was at a tourney in Corpus, where the Lady Coogs lost a couple of games following a first-night triumph Tuesday over Sharyland.