There are multiple reasons to explain why and how Vela dominated its rival at Richard R. Flores Stadium Tuesday, securing the most important victory of 2020, 3-0 over EHS. And they are all interesting subplots.
First off, the tactics of Coach Americo Cortez, who has tinkered with his hard-nosed defensive set-up the past two matches, and come up aces, high, with the moves. After having flummoxed Donna North and its 100-goal scorer in the previous 31-6A game, Cortez and his center back tandem of senior Danya Selber and junior Ky Richards were huge again. The aggressive and physical Richards was to focus on the equally impressive Leah Sanchez, picking up the EHS dynamo as early as possible up the pitch. The agile and speedy Selber was to use her ability to clean up the mess when need be, and it worked wonders, with the entire defensive line fantastic in keeping a clean sheet against a very formidable attacking side.
But the defensive masterpiece might not have been as successful had it not been for what became an all-freshman affair in the all-important midfield. After solid senior Kat Carrizales went out with an ankle injury after eight minutes, her sister Abby came on and performed like a seasoned veteran, teaming with fellow newbie Natalie Cortez to keep dangerous EHS soph Miriela “Titi” Munoz at bay for the duration.
Winning balls and passing with calm composure, those two made the game a breeze for the side, as the Lady Bobcats had little possession in the first 40 minutes, after which Vela had pulled ahead, 2-0 on goals from the great junior Taylor Campbell and lean Jaleina Carrillo. Both scores came after some furious work from senior Dayana Cantu, who fought her way to multiple 50-50 opportunities as a beginning catalyst for the successful ventures.
Campbell got the vital First Goal just nine minutes in, as Abby Carrizales – on her first touch after jogging in from the touchline – made a sweet pass which Cantu ran onto and redirected to a streaking Campbell for one of the latter’s patented smashes. Though eventually, they were to thoroughly outclass a rattled EHS side the entire half, it took another bang-bang sequence late in the period to establish the two-tick lead. Campbell made two snakelike cuts with the ball on the left side, leaving bewildered defenders in her wake. When she sent the ball into the area Cantu again wanted it more than anyone else, and though she didn’t manage a clean shot, the strong-legged vet was able to set up Carrillo (back from injury) for a rebound poke that turned the keeper with 5:44 to play before the horn.
EHS, which had come in unbeaten on 12 points, picked up the tempo in the second half and worked to several decent opportunities, but with Richards on the job – she and Sanchez of EHS put on a thrilling and physical brawl for the ages, all hips and shoulders and not a little extracurricular activity – and Selber producing a number of strong clearances off the near line, Vela steamed into the top echelon of the loop, counting 15 points from six matches after the result. Cantu slotted the much-deserved third goal with an absolute laser up high, right corner, from 20 yards out.
Cortez was exceedingly pleased with his team’s effort and happy as well with the strategy his girls had worked on for the past week.
“We made a few changes to our lineup, we did it against Donna North, picked up their kid up the field,” said the third-year mentor. “It wasn’t a double team, it was just, anticipate, get on 10 early, and have the speed in the back if we needed it. It worked really well tonight, once again.”
And as for the virtuoso 9th-grade performance in the midfield, the coach was equally satisfied.
“When Kat went out, I told her sister, ‘hey, just relax,’” Cortez recalled. “’Play your game and it will be fine.’ After the game, I joked to Abby that she might want to thank her sister. Kat has been great for us; she is an experienced midfielder and I hope she is going to be OK, we need her. But Abby did the job for us when we needed it, she was tough tonight.”
Also productive in this big clash Tuesday was sturdy sophomore Natasha Cardenas, whose slick work down the right side showed that she has a real future with the program.
“Natalia has the moves, man, for sure,” Cortez chuckled. “And she is good at getting deep into the corner and making crosses. She did her job, and it seemed like everyone did tonight, this was an excellent team effort all around.”
When Vela lost to rival Edinburg North in the 31-6A opener back on Jan. 31, it meant that it would have to point to this two-match stretch – against Donna North and the Lady ‘Cats – as the do-or-die juncture of the campaign. The Lady Sabes passed the test with alacrity and finished the first half of the league jaunt with a win at Weslaco East Friday, rising to 18 points.
“We are not looking behind,” Cortez stressed. “No more looking back at what has already happened. We’re focused on the next game, getting better, and competing for a district championship. That’s what we want this year.”
NOTES: EHS, Vela, and Donna North were tied atop the table with 12 points each heading into Friday’s action, with North was fourth on eight points after stopping Econ Tuesday, 2-1. Friday, the Lady Bobcats faced the Lady Chiefs and lost in PKs, while Vela stomped East, 7-0, junior Odessa Leal starring with a hat trick to send her side atop the loop. North rose to 11 points with a 6-0 win over Weslaco and hosts Vela Tuesday to commence the second half.