She was never one for the flashy headlines, preferring to perfect the game she learned from her parents and on the club circuit, and to enjoy excelling at it.
By the time she got to EHS four years ago, Jayla Santa Maria was a great talent who blossomed even more under the tutelage of Coach J.D. Salinas and his expert staff, becoming one of the finest players to ever bounce the roundball in the Valley.
All the while, though, the all-purpose star was content to hoop it up in her inimitable style, leading the Lady Bobcats to tons of wins with her shooting, passing, defense, and rebounding. She always let her tremendous game speak for itself, but Wednesday it finally came time for the soft-spoken assassin to be the center of attention as she signed a letter of intent to continue the journey at the college level.
And this she handled with characteristic efficiency, all low key but still making a big impression on the huge crowd gathered at EHS in the gym. She is headed for Central Texas soon, to play college ball, and the post-Jayla Era (mild but palpable shudder) is about to begin.
Santa Maria was a starter from day one with the Lady Bobcats, ending her career with 2,207 points, scoring 15.7 ppg with 8.0 rebounds, 444 steals, and 114 three-point makes. As a senior she hit for 18.7 ppg and collected 8.2 rpg, shooting 72 percent from the free throw line.
Texas Lutheran is in the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference with Schreiner, Centenary, the University of Dallas, Colorado College, Southwestern, and Austin College, and last year was 4-10 in conference, 8-17 overall. The Lady Bulldogs return three regulars standing 5-10 or better, as well as guard Cami Davis, who led in scoring last year at 14.8 ppg. The school is in Seguin, about 35 miles east of San Antonio, with an enrollment of 1,400.
The newest addition (and top recruit) to the fold at Seguin said that in four years as a Lady Bobcat she improved in two major aspects: shooting accuracy and confidence. Salinas, who still has younger sister Jenessah to rely on at guard, agreed, noting that high school was all about growing up.
“It is a sort of maturity, coming to understand what it takes to be successful at the 6A level,” said the coach, whose bond with his star player is a fine one. “The realization about what it takes, and Jayla was always the hardest worker, usually the last to leave, we really rode on her shoulders for four years.”
Salinas added that as great a ball player as she has been, Santa Maria is as good, or better, as a person.
“I mean, she’s academic All-State on several different teams, top 25, just a real good person,” he said. “Beyond the basketball, she has been a joy to have in the program.”
Santa Maria has to be mentioned at the start of the conversation of the best in Valley history. She ranks right up there with former Lady ‘Cats Michelle Martin and Marah Guzman, and somewhere in the vicinity of EHS assistant coach Bianca Torre, who from this vantage point is the greatest girls’ player ever.
True to form, she was soft-spoken and polite at her signing, easy and real. The school loves Jayla and vice versa, and seeing her take the next step to college was almost as much fun as watching her in action on the hardwood for four glorious seasons … Almost.