VELA NOW SECOND IN SOCCER'S 31-6A WITH TWO TO PLAY

DONNA - This was the ultimate night of the season, with Vela on the road at Donna North Friday needing a win to regain its hold on second spot in District 31-6A.

The tenor of the match was decided before the opening kick, as the lead official had to go 20 yards to chase down a rolling ball sent packing by a stiff 30 mph wind doing the honors.

So it became a Wind Game as the Lady SaberCats battled their physical home foe, a half-by-half contest to see which side could best ride the breeze. But even though his team struggled to control its passes with the wind at its back in the first 40, Coach Americo Cortez was not fazed.

“No, I knew we would play better in the second half, against the wind,” said Cortez, who got a goal from poaching queen Dayana Cantu with just two minutes left in the first. “The way we play, having the wind against us actually helps us control the ball and touch the ball well.”

Donna North, which came in a notch above Vela in the standings, was rugged and determined, but the Vela defense, even missing standout sophomore Ky Richards to illness, was equal to the task down the stretch.

Sophomore Taylor Campbell, who worked against the usual double-teaming defense she faces with regularity, managed to slot one home with 17 minutes to go, off a counter-and-force by Cantu, who was also ill but persevered to have a fine game.

From there, it was like watching an NHL ice squad in penalty-killing mode, as the Lady Chiefs made many promising forays into the attacking third, only to be denied time and time again. Young Lauren Carrillo was excellent in extended minutes of wing defense, and when the home stretch arrived, junior Danya Selber flat took over. The aggressive and athletic veteran, placed in Richards’ stay-at-home center back role, came up with no fewer than seven defensive clearances in the final 12 minutes, with a header, three kickouts, and a couple of other scrambling plays to close out the 2-0 victory.

In all, it was a satisfying must-have for the Lady Sabes, and Campbell spoke to the team’s fierce will to grab second. She also gave some inside scoop on her development as a player.

“It’s been tough this year, really, for me, because so many teams are just coming at me,” said Campbell, who was marvelous as a freshman with 36 goals but has struggled at times in 2019, by her lofty metrics. “But I just try to turn it around, get in their head … I’m like, OK, you guys are on me? It must be for a reason. Then I just try and help us win in any way, including passing out of double-teams. Tell you what, those girls from Donna North were hitting hard all night. I just had to keep low and get through somehow.”

Campbell noted the yeoman’s effort from Cantu, and the impressive on-ball defense of Carrillo. Gia Hernandez and Alyssa Muniz also turned in steady nights in back.

“We just have a lot of people who can step in and contribute,” the stylish scorer said. “Girls just come in and fill spots, they do the job, and it gives us a lot more options out there.”

Meanwhile, North is on target to win the league once again while Vela – which faced EHS at Richard R. Flores Stadium Monday afternoon – needs to close out second and gain a more favorable playoff matchup verses a lesser 32-6A grebe. Step one to Mission Accomplished was taken via a stirring triumph against the Lady Chiefs Friday.

VELA FALLS AFTER NICE FIRST HALF, EHS BOYS ROLL

In the boys’ Mid-Valley nightcap, the retooled Vela squad played well in the first 40 minutes, getting a sweet 1-on-1 goal from lanky freshman Orlando Aguirre, who swept around the Chiefs keeper for an equalizer midway through. Donna North led just 2-1 at the half but the SaberCats, with Emiliano Luna and right wing Damian Rojas energizing the run, helped overcome the absence of senior leader Luis Flores, who sat out the match after accruing the max of five yellow cards.

The visitor let go the rope in the second half against the district champs, falling 6-1 and failing to pick up ground on fourth-place North, which was idle. The Sabes now are actually sixth, as fifth-spot Weslaco East has picked it up well lately. Many new faces are crossing the touchline in recent weeks for the Blue and Black.

Meanwhile, the Jags have hit a real speed bump in the road, and dropped their third straight result Friday – in penalties to that underdog, East – and fell into a dead heat with rival EHS for second behind the Chiefs. Coach Luis Cardenas’ Bobcats have been decidedly solid in league action, and won twice last week, a 3-1 Tuesday decision over the Jags complementing a comfortable 2-0 win against Weslaco later in the week.