LADY COOGS SURVIVE BEHIND GLORIOUS GK CANO

It is a beautiful game, football, and part of the allure is its enduring inscrutability, its excruciating mystery. And after another classic tangle featuring the North and Vela girls Tuesday, the magical and unpredictable game lives on.

The Lady SaberCats dominated run of play from wire to wire, peppering the goal with shots in an attacking performance that was perhaps its best of the season. But the Lady Cougars were unmoved, getting a simply tremendous job in net by junior Gaby Cano to post a tense 1-0 result at home, beginning their defense of a district title with a gutty effort against a seemingly indefatigable onslaught by the determined visitor.

All it took was one, which has indeed been the football mantra for more than a hundred moons, and when superb Daniela Ortiz sailed a first-half corner kick into the net for her fifth Olympic goal of the season, the fatal die was cast. North has now beaten its rival three times in succession.

Vela, which touched with precision, used its speed and quickness with alacrity, and appeared ready to break through on many occasions, was turned aside time after time by Cano and the stern defensive charge led by freshman Yajaira Hernandez and her staunch teammates.

Vela, creating chances left and right, just could not break through, getting a handful of bullets from Taylor Campbell, nice playmaking down the right side by freshman Lauren Vega, and a last-minute turn and shot from Danya Selber … but it was not going to happen.

“I was pressured all night,” said Cano, who dived twice to her left, twice to her right, and leapt once up high to deny five prime Lady Sabe tries, among the dozen on goal that the visitor produced. “But I just kept focused … focus, focus, focus!”

In between dazzling work from Cano and strong-armed defense from Hernandez, Brenda Ricardez, Lizzie Loera, and Cortney Ortiz, the Lady Coogs managed just two shots on goal on a night where the action was in its own third, perennially.

Coach Danny Valdez told his victorious team what he thought after its effort.

“True, we basically defended the whole night but you know what, it worked,” he said after the hard-fought rivalry scrum. “That was the sign of a good champion tonight!”

Knowing that North had man-marked the explosive Campbell twice last season, with occasional double- and triple-teaming involved, Vela Coach Americo Cortez threw a tricky curveball Tuesday. He started Campbell, who netted 36 times as a freshman, in the back, and only brought her up after the first 15 minutes, by which time Vela had begun roaring downhill in a tight, well-passed journey to the box. It took North a while to spy Campbell.

Handling the midfield and getting into attack, the Lady Sabes ran to 10 shots in the half; the defense was not tested much in the first 40 minutes … until it was.

Ortiz, who has energized the North side like crazy all season, took a corner from the left side, and it rocketed right into the net with just over 10 minutes to play before the interval, and like that, 30 minutes of excellent team football was by the boards for Vela.

The second half was more of the same, with Cortez’ team engineering opportunities but the agile Cano thwarting them. The Lady Coogs concentrated even harder on defense in the final half, as Ortiz and Nataly Becerra each turned in rugged stops. Cano also punted exceedingly well Tuesday, and the Lady Coogs were able to seize the day in a fine exhibition of grit and never-say-die character.

 

SABES PULL OFF PK SURPRISE

Down a man for the entire second half Tuesday, the Vela boys nonetheless carried the banner into penalty kicks for a clutch victory, snaking two points away from North in its league opener on the road.

The Cougars looked to have the better of the fray from the start, fashioning a number of set-piece opportunities, and got on the scoreboard eight minutes in when speedy junior Roberto Ruiz ran onto a cross from Edgar Aguilar, finding the net.

But Vela, which got solid head and foot clears from its beefy backline – aside from on the offending goal – rallied after that, earning the equalizer from steady senior Luis Flores, who converted from the spot at 27:25 of the first after a mano violation in the North box.

Ruiz showed impressive speed and agility for North, and is one of many new faces on board for the Coogs. Vela, amid a coaching change once again, made a valiant stand as Carlos Herrera was particularly effective in back alongside Seb Garza, and keeper Jared Zerrato was solid. Amazingly, they had a man sent off late in the first half but still preserved the tie over the final 40 minutes.

It would come down to penalties, even though North threatened many times in the half, playing 11-on-10. Ruiz fired just wide of the post with 12 minutes left and then the Coogs whiffed twice in the box later down the road. Vela countered with super passing to get a late try but North midfielder Chris Villares – who had a standout night – closed the play out.

In kicks, the Coogs hoofed their second attempt over the bar and Vela made all five, the clincher coming from Tonio Vidales to elicit the customary pandemonium.