PHARR — It’s just how he is. When one asks Luis Cardenas the secret behind his resurrection of the soccer program at EHS, he shrugs his shoulders, deflects the question, and defers to the principals.
“It’s them, not me,” he said Friday afternoon, gently pointing a finger at the Bobcats as they ran through pre-game stretching for a tournament game at Valley View. They would defeat Pharr North 1-0 later, continuing the unit’s rise from last place in 2009 to contender in 2010.
It would all culminate in the tourney championship Saturday, as a win against Donna gave the Bobcats the first prize at a tough event in its sixth season.
Edinburg had blown through the field at the ECISD Tourney to start the year, losing in the finals to Laredo Alexander. Then the ‘Cats started a 10-game streak of great soccer, beating seven teams and tying with sub-5A power Valley View. That led to the last day of action at the Hidalgo/VV event, on which they tied with Donna and Pharr North before getting the 3-2 rematch win over the Redskins in the finals. Juan Martinez, Jacob Zuniga and Jaime Juarez did the scoring for EHS.
For Cardenas, a soft-spoken native of Reynosa who moved to the Valley in 8th grade and eventually attended McAllen Memorial, it’s good times right now for a program that slowly sank off of the radar after back-to-back regional tourney appearances in mid-decade. But he is quick to note that he isn’t a savior.
“This is a good group of kids, we have a mix of returning veterans and new faces,” said the coach, who took over for Cerjio Elizarraraz this season after assistant stints with both the boys and girls at EHS. “They have a lot of motivation to get the team back to where it used to be, and we have won a lot of close games so far. It’s been good.”
Cardenas, a member of the last soccer team at The University of Texas-Pan American in 1997, has always been known as a patient teacher who loves working with kids on the technical aspects of the sport. But now he is in charge, and that entails a whole new ball game for the 34-year-old.
“It’s a lot different, sure, there are a lot of decisions to be made,” he explained. “It’s good because as an assistant I was always running practices and working on specifics, there were times when I may have wanted to do something, but I had no power to do it.”
This year’s group is looking powerful, with returning stars Juarez, Adrian Armijo, and Teo Rodriguez. Though the ‘Cats lost graduated standout Mike Ibarra, his brother Angel has been playing well this season.
Juarez, a multi-position contributor who kicked for the football team for two seasons, assisted for the game-winner against Pharr North to his cousin Luis Hinojosa, a lively freshman who showed speed and agility in the tournament.
Ibarra is working on defense along with the indefatigable Armijo and a junior, Juan Aparicio, who has considerable promise.
Goalkeeper Jose Risa pitched a shutout against the Raiders and has been flawless in the early going, helped by rugged defender Raymond Huerta, a holdover from last season. The ‘Cats are strong in the back and can attack the opposite goal with Juarez controlling in the middle.
After the breakthrough win at the Hidalgo/Valley View tourney, the Bobcats were set to take on local power Sharyland Tuesday, and then comes a rematch against Valley View Friday. Both of those games are on the road, but right now, nothing seems to bother the new-look Red and Blue.
“We’ll see how it goes,” Cardenas said. “We’ve done well so far but we have a lot of work ahead of us. For the start to the season, we’re pleased with how we’ve played.”