TORRES AND CO. GET IT DONE AT HOME
They had a plan, and they had loads of motivation. And they started the district soccer season with a resounding victory with admirable poise in the extra session.
North had been waiting in the tall grass like a viper, compiling a fine early record that included a signature victory against vaunted Sharyland. The Coogs also scouted their opponent very well, and were ready to try and counter what the Lady Sabes do best. It all added up to a 3-2 win after penalty kicks Friday, as the Lady Coogs rebounded from an early deficit to gradually employ its rugged play and long-ball prowess into a huge opening result over a highly touted city rival.
“We told the girls the last few days, that if they can beat Sharyland they can play with anyone,” said Coach Danny Valdez, whose side compiled an 8-1-3 mark heading into league play. “Plus, we had some girls who have played with No. 9 for years, in club ball, so we knew what she can do, and we wanted to limit her. We D’d her up with two and three defenders, the whole way.”
The other piece of the puzzle was the penalty kick business, where North’s sophomore goalie Gaby Cano shut out the Lady Sabes on three attempts; when her teammates came through with three goals in a row, it was done, the 31-6A wars having begun with a terrific match that was fast and fertile at first and then fierce and forceful after the intermission.
Vela had flown to a 9-4 record in non-district, paced by the excellent play of newcomer Taylor Campbell, among others. And indeed it was No. 9 who opened the performance Friday, whizzing a pea from the left side, back inside the far post for a quick 1-0 lead at 37:22.
As the half developed, North’s main weapon was power, as free kicks from junior Elvira Torres, booming goal kicks by Nataly Becerra, and strong punts from Cano countered Vela’s speed and touch. On her third FK of the half, Torres slammed a 25-footer over the head of Lady Sabe keeper Joanna Corona to knot the affair at 26:15. This was a huge moment in the night as the experience of North paid off.
“We have nine juniors who have been together for a few years now,” Valdez commented. “They know what they are doing out there and they don’t get rattled. They came and tied it.”
Both teams were physical Friday, with Maddi Garcia and Lizzie Loera lending aggression to the North group, which continues to work on midfield rotation while its defense holds form and the well skilled Torres handles out front. In the back, long-legged Kassy Balderas and steady Cecelia Oros have been here before, and they play like it.
Playing with the wind for the first half, the Lady Coogs now looked to take the offensive after the equalizer. Corona is a newbie, called into service in the Vela crease due after the team found itself short on minders all of a sudden. She did a credible job for the most part and got some backup from active defender Alyssa Muniz, whose long-range clears helped the effort. She also sent a number of smart balls into the attacking third.
Up the field, Vela was finding things more dicey as the North defense converged on the dangerous Campbell. The strategy served to change the flow and run of play.
“You’re just kicking it, I need you to touch, pass the ball!” hollered Vela boss Americo Cortez to his club, after the unity and purpose on offense started to falter.
At 16 minutes, Vela almost went up, as Ayramar Cortez popped one inside and Campbell got loose to find it and unload a try. Cano made a high save to knock it away for a corner, and minutes later, North came down to take the lead.
Oros rose above the fray to head in a corner and the Lady Coogs went ahead at 12:42. They threatened again but it was Vela that countered, rushing down to a leveling score at the close of the half, defender Bri de Leon whistling a beauty of a long ball into the zone. There, soph Dayana Cantu was quickest to the ball, evening the game at 2-2.
At the half the seasoned Torres sat just outside the team circle, brooding and planning. At one point, as Valdez went over the drill, she told her teammates what was what.
“Hey this is our house, we have to protect our reputation!” she scowled. “We have to win this game.”
As score-happy as the first half was, neither school would find the net again after the break. With Balderas protecting the North box ahead of keeper Julie Flores – former Vela minder who is now at North – Vela was having issues setting up shop. Senior Ayysa Arevalo did manage to create a fine opportunity 10 minutes in: thwarted by Flores. The Lady Coogs courted disaster when they committed a handball just three yards outside the box; no harm came from it, however.
With North jamming the midfield with swarming defenders, and Vela countering with hard-nosed play from Kris Calvillo, it settled into a slugfest. Cortney Ortiz laid some licks on defense for the Lady Coogs with Garcia also using her aggression to keep the Lady Sabes from having room to touch and go.
Late in the match Arevalo seemed to have a chance in deep until Ortiz came rambling over to close her out. North had a glimpse at ending it with 1:21 left as Torres rifled a centering ball right past goal mouth, but no one could jump on the Golden Ticket.
In the PKs, Vela went high to start and Cano, returned to the action for the pressure performance, stopped two in a row, one with a dive right and the other up top, straight away. Mean time, first Torres and then teammates Becerra and Oros were true with their boots, and that was all she wrote for the district opener.
“We knew we could do this,” said Torres after the win. “It was a challenge, but not something we felt we couldn’t do. We’re both good teams, we just were able to come out on top.”
The veteran Valdez has been the coach of this team since it began playing in the early 1990s, and he always seems to have something up his sleeve.
“Not going to say much, can’t give all the secrets away,” he joked after the W. “No, the truth is, we knew we could be competitive and it just came down to the end. I told our girls that no matter what happens tonight, we’re going to have to play them again, over there. Our experience helped us tonight, and the fact that we have beaten some really good teams in non-district, that was a plus for us too. We swarmed No. 9 and tried to take her out of the game.”
NOTES: The Friday match between EHS and Econ came down to penalty kicks also, the Lady Jags prevailing after a 1-1 deadlock at full time.