Though it was a tough opening day for North at the ECISD Tourney Thursday – the Lady Coogs drew with Brownsville Lopez and then lost 1-0 to Weslaco – it’s early yet, and these early stretches are for learning.
Coach Danny Valdez has been mixing and matching during the opening weeks of the soccer season, trying to find a personnel balance. He has a great returning defensive cast but would like some of those established kids to move upfield and help out where graduation tore some holes in the fabric.
“We’ve got a lot to work to do,” he told his girls after the Weslaco game, in which the strong wind was a factor. “Everyone has to find out what their job is and do their job. We may or may not make it to Saturday, but we need to come out here tomorrow ready to get better.”
The Lopez game was 0-0 Thursday, with the Lady Coogs having several decent scoring chances against a traditionally good Lady Lobo squad. In the second game, they failed to score when running with the wind in the first half but defended well enough to stay even. Weslaco, which appears to be much improved, punched one in early in the second, despite the gusts, and held on in the face of a furious Lady Coog rally down the stretch. Attackers Sami Aguilar, a fast freshman, and tricky senior Janelle Saenz, got close at the end, with Yajaira Hernandez creating a few real good looks. But the burly Weslaco D did the job to close it out.
This year Valdez has plugged in tall and agile Ariana “Nana” Gonzalez as a sweeper in back, and newcomer Elizabeth Garza, originally from Los Fresnos, looks like a keeper who has strong holdup skills with her back to goal. Goalie Gaby Cano is a proven commodity as are Yajaira Hernandez and Deyanara Hernandez as well, and wiry Brenda Ricardez will soon be back from a concussion. North has adopted safety headgear this season for all the kids, by the way. The wild card is talented junior Lizzy Loera, who has been a staunch defender in the past and is now transitioning into some midfield action. How the various position changes pan out will tell the tale of whether North can win its third district title in a row.
“Right now, we are switching things up, trying to see who will be where,” Valdez said. “If we keep all our girls back on defense, the play upfield might suffer. But if we move too many girls up, it will affect the defense.”
North did a good job Friday, beating Edcouch-Elsa and Progreso but failed to advance into the consolation bracket path for Saturday, barely missing, on points compiled.
NEW-LOOK LADY JAGS HOLDING THEIR OWN
It wasn’t that long ago that Econ was copping back-to-back district titles, and Coach Robert Garcia has his Lady Jags poised to return to the conversation after a couple of trying seasons. The Orange fought their way into the consolation championship bracket with two solid days at the ECISD, beating Roma and Alice Friday after splitting a pair Thursday (beat Donna, lost to Los Fresnos).
Even without team leader Maria Rocha, the Lady Jags competed well, and in a windy second game Friday dominated Alice, scoring four times and keeping a clean sheet. Audrey Reyes got Econ on the board by converting a penalty kick late in the first half, a stretch during which Anahi Luna was very strong in the attacking third.
With the wind at their backs, the Lady Jags pelted the Alice goal after the break, with Luna intercepting a wayward Alice goal kick, taking two smart touches, and slotting home for a 2-0 lead. Midway through the half, Garcia’s gals got a pair in a hurry, both from Reyna Vazquez. She sizzled a corner kick past everyone and it dribbled in and then banged one in on the run following a super lateral pass from the right-wing by Yami Medellin.
Garcia knows that this year’s edition has a ton of new faces, with Medellin and Rocha the only returning vets with experience. But the team shows enthusiasm and chemistry with fleet wing Nayeli Melendez and tough defender Gloria Ibarra among the contributors during the tournament.
The good showing at the ECISD follows a creditable performance in Laredo two weeks ago and has the program thinking that despite a crowded 31-6A field in 2020, maybe this is going to be an interesting journey to come.