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In three of his four seasons as the La Joya girls head basketball coach, Daniel Morales has taken the Lady Coyotes to the brink of the playoffs only to miss out on post-season play all three times. Having tied for the fourth and final playoff spot in the district with Donna twice and with Mission once, the Lady Coyotes either lost out on a tiebreaker or failed to win a one-game playoff that would’ve put them into the playoffs for the first time in many years.
Having come so close to the playoffs that they could taste it, only to be left on the outside looking in, has been extremely exasperating for Morales and his girls.
“It’s been a long and frustrating road,” said Morales. “These girls have worked really, really hard. When I first took over, we had just split from one to three high schools, so our numbers were depleted to the point that we only had two teams, a varsity and a junior varsity. Unfortunately for the JV players, they were all freshmen so it was tough on them to play a JV schedule.”
Unlike other schools where the girls tend to work on one sport year round, Morales has had to deal with the fact that at La Joya most of his girls don’t eat, sleep and breathe basketball.
“The kids here for the most part don’t specialize in one sport,” said Morales. “They participate in pretty much all sports. They come from volleyball and go to basketball, from basketball they go to track or softball. They compete in pretty much everything here.”
Morales credits much of the Lady Coyotes success over the past four seasons to a four-year starter that is now playing college ball at Western Texas College in Schneider.
“Last year, we won 20 games and we tied for the last playoff spot,” explained Morales. “I was blessed the last four years because my point guard Elva Hinojosa had started for me since she was a freshman, so in her senior year I didn’t really have to say anything. She would look at the defense, turn to look at me and just with eye contact she knew what I wanted. She was a complete basketball player who knew the game inside and out.”
With several members of last year’s team having graduated, Morales was prepared for the challenge of coaching a less experienced group of girls this year. However, injuries have left him with even less experience to work with than he expected.
“This year I have two girls coming off of major knee operations and another one with back and foot injuries,” said Morales. “As a result, we only have one returning starter from last year’s team and we’re going through some growing pains. But I can’t praise my girls enough because they fight and they grind it out for the full four quarters.”
As the Lady Coyotes’ only returning starter, Dalia Anaya (#14) has been the quintessential team player for Coach Morales.
“She’s a wing, but last year she played out of position for us,” said Morales. “She played at the post position for us last year. She never complained and she did everything she was asked to do even though that’s not her natural position.”
With such an inexperienced team, Morales will be relying on Anaya and her leadership skills this season.
“This year, we’ve moved her to the wing, which is her natural position, and she’s done very well,” added Morales of Anaya. “She’s a leader and as one of our captains she leads by example. She plays hard and practices hard. She’s always the first one or the second one at practice – always.”
Based on the improvement he’s seen in his team already this season, Morales is optimistic about his Lady Coyotes chances to exceed his preseason expectations.
“Knowing that we were going to be young and inexperienced, we went into this season wanting to be competitive and hoping to be in the playoff hunt,” said Morales. “But we’ve improved week to week and game to game, so the sky’s the limit. Our attitude is that anything can happen and everything is possible.”
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The Progress Times is the hometown newspaper for the local communities of Mission, Sharyland, Alton, Palmview, La Joya and surrounding areas in Western Hidalgo County. We have a staff of veteran reporters who work diligently every week to bring our readers the latest news as it affects their hometown area and people.