Winning may not be everything, but when it comes to basketball, Veterans Memorial High School (VMHS) head coaches Rafael Cantu, Jr. and Romeo De La Garza, Jr. have certainly turned winning into a long-standing tradition. With both the Lady Patriots and the Patriots boys having made the playoffs nine out of the 11 years the school has been in existence, it has almost become a foregone conclusion that both VMHS teams will qualify for post-season play year-in and year-out.
The winning tradition at VMHS continued for both teams last year as Cantu’s Lady Patriots not only qualified for the playoffs but went undefeated in district play and won the outright district championship, while De La Garza’s boys compiled an 11-3 district record (26-9 overall) and finished second to Roma in District 32-4A.
While last year’s regular season success did not carry into the post season as the Lady Patriots, who fell to Laredo Cigarroa by three points, and the Patriots boys, who came up short against a Corpus Christi Miller team that made it as far as the state championship game the year before, were both eliminated in the bi-district round of the state playoffs. Even so, both teams did succeed in continuing the winning tradition that has become synonymous with VMHS basketball.
If the 2013/2014 edition of the Lady Patriots is going to extend that tradition at least one more year, it will have to be with a revamped line-up as a result of the loss of several of last year’s key players to graduation.
“We only have two returning starters from last year, Ashley Smith and Priscilla Rivera,” explained Cantu. “As a result we’re a very young team. Virtually everybody’s been asked to assume new roles. Even though Ashley is just a sophomore she has been asked to become a leader on the court. Priscilla didn’t have to handle the ball as much last year but she’s been asked to do that this year. And our seniors that are on the team this year (Alyssa Anderson, Stephanie Cabrera, Sandy Sanchez) are being asked to play more than they ever have.”
“We have three freshmen on the team (Andrea De La Garza, Lindsey Garza, Darian Ibarra), two sophomores besides Ashley (Rosa Silva, Krista Perez) and a couple of juniors (Maria Rocha, Maria Torres). So we do have a good mix but we’re very young,” added Cantu.
With so much youth on his team, the Lady Patriots’ head coach is optimistic about what his girls can do once they’ve gained some experience.
“The good thing is that our ceiling is unlimited,” said Cantu. “We’re getting better and better every day and that’s our goal - to improve on a daily basis and to peak at the end of the year.”
As for Coach De La Garza, he has had to rework his Patriots’ line-up not only as a result of the loss of last year’s graduating seniors but also as the result of something that happened on the football field.
“This year’s team is a totally new team,” explained De La Garza. “The only returning starter I had but I no longer have is Santos Villareal. He is out for the year due to an injury he suffered playing football. As a result I only have two kids returning with any varsity experience to speak of and they are juniors Orly Villalobos and Matthew Guajardo.”
“We’re 10-4 right now overall and we’re getting better,” added De La Garza. “As a coach that’s all I can ask for.”
Other members of the Patriots team include freshman Adam Solis, sophomores David Sanchez and Lazaro Garza, juniors Leo Salazar, Rigo Pena, Jesus Vasquez, and A.D. Ibarra and seniors Servando Abrego, Jared Castaneda, Rey Ramirez, Adrian Rodriguez and John Pena.
The Lady Patriots are currently 4-1 in district play with wins over Valley View, Edcouch-Elsa, Donna North and Roma and their only loss coming to Mercedes. The Patriots are 1-2 in district play with a win over Donna North and losses to Edcouch-Elsa and Roma. Both teams have an open date tomorrow but will be playing a doubleheader at Mission High against the Eagles and Lady Eagles Tuesday Dec. 10 with the girls tipping off at 6 p.m. and the boys at 7:30.
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