They all dream about it, but most do not get a sniff at the big time. In terms of high school athletes getting the chance to continue their career in college, only the best of the best prep players have the ability, drive, and luck/connections to make it happen.
This season, as the EHS hoopsters drive toward what they hope is another district title, one of their ex stars is making the grade up at Texas A&M-Commerce. Five-foot-10 Estevan Arriola, who thrilled city fans for three seasons with his shooting prowess and fine moves off the dribble, red-shirted last season but is now a part of the regular squad at Commerce. He’s gotten into some games this season as a backup guard.
Current EHS coach Zeke Cuellar says that Arriola’s accomplishments do not surprise him.
“Esteven had a very consistent nature and always a great work ethic,” said Cuellar, an assistant to Joe Filoteo during Arriola’s senior season two years ago. “He’s a kid with a lot of determination, just a little different than most in that regard.”
Cuellar described the All-Valley guard as a tireless worker.
“He’d come early, shoot and practice his game, and then be the last one to leave practice after it was over,” Cuellar recalled. “Sometimes it isn’t just sheer talent that decides who makes it at the next level. Estevan showed what kind of desire he had by coming back from some injury problems to become one of the best players we’ve had in some time.”
So far, so good. Whether Arriola eventually rises to the heights of former Bobcat superstar Lalo Rios remains to be seen. Rios, now the coach at Econ, played four seasons for The University of Texas-Pan American in the mid 1990s and is among the program leaders in career three-pointers and steals. Arriola is just starting out, but every time an ex goes on to play in college, it’s a plus for the high school program they left behind.
“Of course it makes us look good if one of our guys is able to play at the next level,” Cuellar said, adding that the Runnin’ Cats have had a handful of players through the years who have had the ability to do so. “But it takes a lot of determination. There were some guys we had who didn’t get recruited by Division I so they sort of gave up on it after awhile, when they could have gone somewhere to play DII maybe. It isn’t that easy to make it at the higher lever, for anyone. But when one of our guys does it, like Estevan, we’re proud of him.”
Cuellar keeps up with Arriola and his exploits in East Texas, talking to the former sharpshooter as often as possible.
“He’ll be asking me questions and telling me how he’s doing,” said the coach. “I need to check in with him this week because since we’ve been so busy with tournaments, I haven’t had the chance.”
While Arriola attempts to carve out some playing time back east, former EHS superstar Marah Guzman has found a home at UTPA. After two years at Western Texas College, the 5-1 Guzman, one of the greatest girls’ ballers to ever play in the Valley, is averaging about a dozen minutes a night with the Lady Broncs. Also on the squad this year are Andrea Garza of McAllen High and Bianca Torre of Harlingen South, giving the Lady Broncs a Valley flavor in 2009-10.
While the freshman Torre has been the team’s leading scorer and assist girl so far, Garza and Guzman have assumed role-player status, although Guzman played 15 minutes against St. Edward’s Saturday in a 27-point home win for UTPA. Former Guzman teammates Gina Ferrer (Lindenwood) and Liz Olvera (not playing anymore) each went on to the college ranks.
Another ex EHS guard, Maddy Lopez, has found a niche out in Alpine for Sul Ross, The freshman was a three-year starter for the Lady ‘Cats and has earned ample playing time so far for the Lady Lobos, having scored at least eight points three times.
FOOTBALL AND BEYOND
North’s David Torres forged a solid spot on the defensive line for Texas State as a sophomore. The city’s player of the year as a senior at North in 2007, Torres bulked up from 240 pounds to 275 and switched from his customary linebacker position inside to tackle. He says that the transition from high school to college is tough, but doable.
“I had to really work to get a chance, first of all,” said Torres, at North’s third-round playoff game last month against San Antonio Brandeis in the AlamoDome. “But I was able to impress the coaches with my quickness and I got a lot of playing time this year. The game is a lot faster overall than high school, but if you do your work in practice and know where to be on the field, you’ll be alright.”
Right now Torres is dealing with an issue that many local high school stars have to confront when making the leap.
“I am trying to get them to give me a scholarship, I think I have earned it,” said the linebacking terror who made All-Valley as a senior. “They always want to get you to work for nothing, I guess that’s the way it goes. But I was a contributor on defense this year, and I want to see if I can get something out of them for what I have done. We’ll see.”
North teammate Marco Adriana has got that problem licked, as he received a full ride from Texas-Arlington, not in football, but in track and field. A sprint star for four seasons who ran for over 1,600 yards as a senior in 2008, Adriana was also on hand to cheer for the Coogs against Brandeis. He said that he’s having a great time in school and looking forward to running for the Mavericks this season.
It’s been a fine period for North sports these days, as soccer standout Katy Lipscomb became a regular in the rotation for the Trinity women’s soccer unit as a freshman. She played in every game this season as Trinity went unbeaten until losing deep in the playoffs, and should be a candidate for a starting role in 2010-11.
As Lady Coogs are concerned, Lauren Garza was a trailblazer of sorts, a soccer/softball star from three seasons back who decided to focus on softball after leaving North for Texas Wesleyan. She’s been a consistent regular up in Forth Worth ever since, placing among the team leaders in runs scored for two seasons heading into her junior campaign. Alyssa Cherry, a catcher on the excellent North teams with Garza at second base and coach’s kid Andrea Tressler in center field, played alongside Garza at TW for a year, as the Lady Coog softball team has produced a number of college combatants in recent years. Former shortstop Alyssa Granado went off to Georgetown to join the team at Southwestern after her playing days were up, as Coach Richard Tressler has been able to develop a bunch of kids with what it takes to reach the next level.
Back to EHS for another crop of standouts that has moved on. Right now, several kids off the record-setting 29-win baseball team of 2008 have graduated into college comp, including Michael Barajas (Cisco College) and Austin Casas (UTPA). Also set to try their hand with the Broncs are ‘Cat ex Andrew Silva and Josh Silva of North. Ricky Villarreal, pitcher/infielder for the ‘08 unit, is doing solid relief work on the mound for Pepperdine out in California.
Not to be left out, Edinburg’s Robie Verano has achieved considerable success in college. Ranked 40th in the state while a Lady Bobcat, Verano is now a steady performer for the Army tennis team, posting a 12-2 singles record last year including a dozen wins in a row. Verano, now a junior, made the semis of the first tournament she competed in after arriving in New York, and is now one of the program’s best.
WHO’S GOT NEXT?
Of the current crop of high school kids aiming to take the next step, the city has some hopefuls. From the recently completed football season, many feel that Matt Munoz has a shot at a scholarship after compiling over 3,000 yards from scrimmage. The 6-footer will have to hit the weights and hope that someone gets a good gander at his highlight tape from 2009. There is plenty to see.
EHS LB David Guevara definitely wants to play college football somewhere, and recently suggested that Texas State might be his walk-on destination. With good height (6-1) and speed (4.4), receiver Manny Menchaca could warrant a look, while burly defensive tackle Bryan Garza has gotten some attention from Texas A&M-Kingsville.
For the Econ Jags, big tackle Pedro Ornelas is an impressive physical specimen at 6-3, 265 pounds, and he was named the District 31-5A Lineman of the year as a senior. Junior Nelson Hampton has been exciting to watch so far, but he will have to get bigger if he wants to extend his career. However, there is no doubting the skills of the slender speedster.
As the softball season starts, super pitcher Iliana Hinojosa of North will surely be hearing from college scouts, while EHS’s Sarina Rios also wants to keep her career alive on the diamond after high school.