Greg Selber

CITY GIRLS

At EHS (8-6, 15-12-1), Coach Martin Gonzalez has half his starters back from last year’s playoff team, and he is working on psychology as the season nears.

“We have a chance to be very good, potentially, but the girls have to start believing that,” said Gonzalez, who has returning talent at most spots. “We could be very solid down the line, I have put the pressure on the veterans already, they have to lead us there.”

The Lady Bobcats will be paced by senior Anaerin Ibarra, who has been outstanding for two seasons; she will move up to forward this year after being a defensive star in the past. Gonzalez thinks that the graceful vet will surprise some people in the offensive flow.

Joining her on the attack will be sophomore Becka Rodriguez, a great player as a freshman who can really run and score. Throw in gritty Alyssa Perez, a junior who will assume the offensive midfielder slot after long-time star Katie Romero graduated, and the Lady ‘Cats are looking to make the playoffs again.

The defensive mid will be Elizabeth Mena, the tall girl who has shown flashes of brilliance. Gonzalez said that he expects big things from Mena in her senior campaign.

“If she can play angry, and stay that way 100 percent of the time, she can really help us,” said the coach. “She has tremendous skills and I want her to step into those skills and come into her own this year.”

On defense, look for junior Andrea Solis to man one spot, with dependable goalkeeper Adriana Lopez back for her junior year.

“I know she’s got the foot, and she has good lateral movement,” said Gonzalez of Solis. “She wants to be the last defender and I hope she can be there for us.”

Other EHS kids looking to make an impact include freshman Briana Sanchez and returnee Sam Almanza, who has impressed the coaches with her improvement this winter.

Can NORTH (12-2, 25-6) do it again? That’s the question for Coach Danny Valdez after his team has won five playoff games the past two seasons. The Lady Cougars lost 14 athletes from last year’s regional tourney team that was finally ousted by San Antonio MacArthur, but they still have some stars in the galaxy.

“I think so, we can be good again,” Valdez said. “We have a lot of good newcomers in here this year, and even though the district is going to be tough, we have a shot again.”

It all starts with Katy Lipscomb, who won league MVP honors and was also the All-Valley MVP. She is one of the region’s best scorers, and will be paired with fellow senior Paige Gutierrez, who is versatile and really knows how to play the game.

The key newcomer is a freshman, Samantha Gutierrez, Paige’s sister, and Valdez spares no praise about her.

“She’s an animal, man, no question about it,” he said. “I look for her to give us four good seasons.”

Along with those kids is Calixta Moses, a fine athlete who will be counted on to bring some speed and aggression to the attack. Valdez says she could be ready for a breakout season.

“She can put pressure on the goalie, and she’s always around the ball, so we are looking for her to contribute,” he commented.

While the offense will be excellent, the Lady Cougars are in the process of revamping a defense that lost all its starters, including All-Valley defensive MVP Anisa Abrego. Andrea “Red” Gonzalez, dropping down in the set-up, should be the new leader on the stop crew, along with Destiny Rodriguez, a junior who also drops back from the wing to play defense. She is super strong, and Valdez says Rodriguez is looking forward to being a stopper.

North has a super class of freshmen to go with some established stars, and so should have a good chance to make the postseason again. Viri Torres, a speedy 9th-grader, is hampered with an injury right now, but should be cleared to play by mid-January.

“I really like our young kids, they should get a chance to play,” Valdez noted. “When you lose so many like we did, some spots are open.”

As for the Lady Jags of ECON, Coach Hector Rodriguez has a bunch of players back from the team that went 3-11, 10-14. The best is Dulce Torres, the high-scoring forward who made second team All-District as a sophomore.

Also expected to continue her talented ways is junior Idalia Ortiz, who has a nice handle and some slick moves in the midfield. Though the team graduated leader Steffany Rodriguez, just about everyone else is back.

The Lady Jags should be solid on defense again, with Cassie Martinez, Nicole Wilke and rugged Liz Gonzalez leading the pack.

CITY BOYS

Coming into the season with a 27-game district winning streak, ECON (14-0, 26-3-1) is going to have the rest of the teams coming after it. But to Coach Sam Gonzalez, that’s the way it should be.

“We anticipate that, and we like it, because it says something about our program,” said Gonzalez, who was district Coach of the Year after leading the Jags into the area round, where they lost to La Joya. “It makes us work harder knowing that everyone wants to beat us.”

The Jags will have to replace a bunch of departed stars including Ernesto Adriana, All-Valley MVP, and Valley defensive MVP Julio Perez, along with five other awesome starters.

But with goal-scoring leader Juan Pantoja back for his senior campaign, Econ will have one of the league’s most thrilling forwards. As the Jags head into 2008-09, the backline should be very good, with smart junior Ivan Camarillo plus speedy Juan Cavazos. Also, there is quick-footed Vivian Garza, who has been a standout in the past.

“I think we’re going to be OK, even though we lost some good kids,” said Gonzalez, who will be counting on a number of newcomers up from JV to keep the program’s success going.

In the back, goalkeeper Robert Navarro is one of the best, a dependable senior whose mean streak sets the tone for his mates. It’s going to be interesting in the early going, as the new guys seek to step in and be counted.

“We need to make sure we come together as a team, that’s what the preseason is for,” said Gonzalez, who expects transfer Abel Farias, once a freshman star with EHS before moving to California, to come in and produce right off the bat. “We are reinforcing our defense and I think that it will be a good one before long. And with Pantoja up front, we may be hard to stop on offense.”

While the Jags reload, NORTH (8-6, 15-12-1) should be able to narrow the gap somewhat this year. Despite injuries to goal-king Noe Serna and promising Alan Alfaro, both out for the year after knee surgery, the Cougars have the makings of a winner.

Coach Joe Gaspar has some serious talent on hand, and thinks with a little luck, his bunch can be competitive, and then some.

“I wish we hadn’t had those injuries but it happened and we have to move on,” said the long-time North mentor. “If we can just get past the mentality that we can’t beat Brownsville, I will be happy.”

The Coogs dropped out in bi-district last season against Rivera, 4-2, and have been a steady playoff squad for years. They start the season with some well-known names in high-skilled Wally De la Paz up front, with trusty Virgil Pena, who has moved to the right side to take advantage of his abilities.

“Those guys have been around, and it’s time for them to go far in the playoffs,” said Gaspar. “I think we’ll be OK this year.”

The Coogs will have one of the league’s best defenses, led by last year’s All-Valley Newcomer of the Year, big and agile Jorge Rivera. Joining him will be All-District pick Joe Morales and honorable mention Cookie Vazquez. Last year’s goalie, Efren Mar, moves to defense this season and should be a valuable addition there.

Other North kids who will contribute for a seasoned squad include midfielder Alex Gutierrez, a super prospect in his sophomore year, and much heralded freshman Cesar Barajas, who is still trying to iron out his eligibility after moving from Mexico. Gaspar said that Barajas is the real deal, and that getting him set to play will be key for the team, especially with the loss of Serna and Alfaro.

He also hopes that smooth defender Emmanuel Oliva, who started at North, transferred to Econ and is now back, will be eligible to compete. If so, he might move up front, to help Pena and De la Paz put the ball in the net.

The year looks promising for EHS (4-10, 6-16-3), which welcomes back a series of proven soccer players. On defense, Arturo “Army” Cantu was second team All-District last season, and is one of the best in the league, a tough kid who can go get the ball and man. Germain Diaz and Carlos Martinez are other experienced defenders for Coach Cerjio Elizarraraz, with goalkeeper Roel Herrera back for his senior year.

The Bobcats will play without superstar Ivan Yee for the first time in forever, as he’s graduated. Taking over up front will be Jaime Juarez, Jesse Esparza, and Teo Rodriguez, all of whom had their moments in 2007-08. EHS might be strongest in the middle, with senior Mike Ibarra on for his third varsity run, with sophomore Edgar Rodriguez, who was excellent as a frosh.

SOCCER SCRIMMAGE SCHEDULE

Friday, Jan. 2

North girls at Brownsville Pace, 7 p.m.

North boys at P-SJ-A Memorial, 7 p.m.

Saturday, Jan. 3

Pace/Progreso at Econ boys, noon

EHS girls at Brownsville Rivera, 7 p.m.

Monday, Jan. 5

La Joya at North girls, 7 p.m.

Tuesday, Jan. 6

McAllen Rowe at EHS girls, 7 p.m.

La Joya at North boys, 7 p.m.

Econ boys at McAllen High, 7 p.m.