There will be plenty of dribbling, passing and shooting at V. F. Neuhaus Gymnasium today as the Mission Eagles open their 2014/2015 District 30-6A schedule against the McAllen High Bulldogs. While which team’s fans will be doing the bulk of the cheering remains to be seen, Mission head coach Everardo Castellano is hoping to get the 9-9 Eagles off on the right foot with a win against the 16-5 Bulldogs.
A win against one of the district’s preseason favorites would go a long way towards boosting the confidence of a Mission team that came within three seconds and one shot of forcing a play-in game against Edcouch for the fourth and final playoff spot last year.
“Last year we had a very young team,” explained Castellano. “We had a freshman, a sophomore and three juniors playing and we had to compete against four playoff teams that were all seniors. They were Mercedes, Edcouch Elsa, Rio Grande City and Roma. We came really close but our last shot with three seconds left on the clock didn’t go in.”
“Even so I was really proud of the kids,” added Castellano. “Especially after what we went through with R.J. (Diaz) suffering a heart attack during one of our practices before the season even started.”
While the Eagles’ current record is under .500, that is not necessarily an indicator of the kind of season Mission will have.
“Last year was a good learning experience for us,” Castellano said. “Now we’re moving up to 6A and one of the things I did in the spring was to schedule tough non-district competition for us to get us ready for district. We played Edinburg Vela, Brownsville Hanna, Saint Joe, these are all playoff contending teams so while our record doesn’t show it we’re playing decent and we’re getting better every game.”
In his fourth year on the Eagles’ varsity roster 5-foot-11 guard and post player Jose Garcia has one goal in mind for himself and for the team this season.
“My personal goals as a senior are to do everything I can to help the team win. As a team our goals are to make the playoffs and win district,” shared Garcia.
Like Garcia senior Jesus Cuellar is in his fourth year on Mission’s varsity roster and like Garcia his goals are team oriented.
“I’m a good leader by example but my personal goal for this season is to be a better leader with my teammates,” said Cuellar. “As a team we want to make the playoffs. We haven’t done that the last four years so we want to come together as a team, make the playoffs and ultimately try to win the district title.”
As for how he expects the district, which includes the three McAllen and the three La Joya high schools, to shape up Cuellar said, “The McAllen teams will probably be the tough teams in the district. McAllen High and Memorial will both be tough but even the La Joya schools will be tough to beat too.”
Junior point guard Caleb Oviedo is in his third year on Mission’s varsity roster. When asked what being an Eagle means to him Oviedo said, “It’s been a great experience. I’ve played with these guys since we were little and now in my third year with them as an Eagle we’re going to try winning games and make the playoffs.”
While senior guard Rene “R.J.” Diaz is a four-year member of the Eagles’ varsity roster he missed all of last year’s district schedule after collapsing on the basketball court at V.F. Neuhaus gymnasium Halloween morning with a heart attack. Being back on the court just one year later, after he was told that he would never play basketball again, is a testament to his love for the game and his desire to play.
While his near-death experience makes his story a unique one Diaz, like his teammates, is all about helping the team to win and making the playoffs.
“Making the playoffs would mean a lot because we’d be the first Eagles team to do that in a while,” said Diaz. “I’ve been through a lot over the past year but I’m just happy to be playing again. All I want to do now is to go out there, do my best and win for my coaches because of all they’ve done for me.”
Today’s district opener against the Bulldogs has a scheduled start time of 2:30 p.m. but will begin upon the completion of the Lady Bulldogs vs Lady Eagles game which is scheduled to tip-off at 1 p.m. Both games will be played at Mission’s V.F. Neuhaus gymnasium.