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20121127 Basketball Girls Sharyland vs Veterans lg-05Lady Patriots’ Briana Casas gets control of a rebound away from the Lady Rattlers’ Monica Salinas. Progress Times photo by Luciano GuerraWith eight seniors on last year’s squad, the 2011-2012 Veterans Memorial High School (VMHS) Lady Patriots were as experienced as they come. Their 16-2 record earned them second place in District 32-4A and a bi-district playoff berth against Corpus Christi Moody. Unfortunately, Moody defeated VMHS 51-47 to bring their senior-packed season to a sudden end.

With so many starters having graduated last year, Lady Patriots’ fans will have lots of new players to cheer for this season. For VMHS Head Girls Basketball Coach, Rafael Cantu Jr., the challenge will be to prepare a mostly young and inexperienced group of girls for varsity level play.

“We were a senior ball club last year with eight seniors,” explained Cantu. “So this year we have nine new players on varsity. We have four seniors and nine underclassmen. With nine being new to varsity level play, there’s a lot of learning and a lot of teaching going on. The girls are improving every day.”

Having led his team to the playoffs for eight straight years, including three district titles, Cantu knows that before this year’s young Lady Patriots ball club can set its sights on post-season play, his players must first gain experience.

“Of course in the end we hope to be right up there challenging for the district title,” said Cantu. “That’s always our goal, to win the district, but that is in the back of our minds right now. We’re just working on getting better every day and getting these young girls some experience because we’re going to need contributions from a lot of girls.”

With the majority of his team being underclassmen, Cantu will be relying on his most experienced player for leadership.

“Briana Casas is our leader,” explained Cantu. “She’s a four year starter at the varsity level. As a returning first team All-District and All-Valley pick she’s off to a great start by averaging 17-18 points and about 12 rebounds a game right now. We’re looking for Bri to lead us by example along with our other seniors Cristina Anguiano (#32), Jackie Diaz (#11), Iris Gutierrez (#14) and Alyssa Lopez (#10). Alyssa didn’t play last year, but she’s come out her senior year.”

Thanks in part to the youngest member of the Lady Patriots’ squad Cantu will have a mix of experience and raw talent to work with as he prepares his girls for district play beginning Dec. 11.

“Ashley Smith, our freshman, had 23 points against Rowe,” said Cantu. “Ashley is a tremendous talent, but as a freshman of course there’s a lot of learning and a lot of growing up to do so we’re looking towards our older girls to make that transition easier.”

With Mission back in District 32-4A this year, Cantu. is looking forward to renewing the rivalry with the Lady Eagles.

“It’s not the same without Mission,” expressed Cantu. “It’s always better when we’re together in the district. It makes for a lot more excitement and a lot more intensity. Of course, it’s a rivalry just by its nature and games with Mission are always tough. Coach Carmona is going to do a good job there and she’s going to get the most out of her girls.”

Other members of the Lady Patriots varsity squad include juniors Stephanie Cabrera, Sandy Sanchez, Priscilla Rivera, Ruby Cardona and Alyssa Anderson and sophomores Jazmine Cuellar and Maria Torres.

VMHS will begin district play at Mercedes Dec. 11 and will open district competition at home against Valley View on Dec. 14.

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