The Bobcat senior scored a career-high 747 points this past season.
EDINBURG — When Jayla Santa Maria was a freshman during the 2014-15 season, Edinburg High coach J.D. Salinas placed a large amount of responsibility on her inexperienced shoulders.
“We relied on Jayla a whole lot,” Salinas said. “She was our leading scorer and second in rebounds. But we also did that because we knew Jayla brought a lot to our team. Her presence, knowledge of the game and confidence trickled down to everybody else in the program.”
Picked to finish sixth in the district that season, the Bobcats won 23 games and finished third in District 31-6A with the help of Santa Maria’s 11.7 points, 7.7 rebounds and 3.0 steals per game.
“I don’t think I really understood it all. I was just playing,” Santa Maria said. “A lot of game situations were still pretty new to me. Going from 10 games in middle school to 30-plus games in high school was a big jump. I hadn’t played that many months out of the year with much older girls like that before. I didn’t expect that year to end up the way that it did.”
The milestones kept coming for Santa Maria: district superlatives, three more playoff appearances and capturing The Monitor’s All-Area Defensive Player of the Year award during the 2016-17 season.
But Santa Maria saved her best season for last. The forward blistered through much of the Valley’s best competition in 2017-18, scoring a career-high 747 points (18.7 per game) while averaging 8.2 rebounds, 3.4 steals and 2.2 assists per game for the Bobcats. Santa Maria adds another feather in her cap as The Monitor’s All-Area Player of the Year.
“I’m excited and proud to have won this award, but it wasn’t just me,” Santa Maria said. “Everyone has helped me to get to this point. It’s a team effort, because there’s no way I could have done any of this. It’s impossible.”
Santa Maria isn’t exaggerating. The Bobcats were a force during her final season on the court. Santa Maria was one of four Bobcats who averaged at least 8.9 points per game. Four of her teammates grabbed four or more rebounds per game, and three players posted at least three steals and two assists per game each.
Edinburg High went undefeated in District 31-6A and dominated much of the Valley. Twenty-three of EHS’ 31 wins in 2017-18 were by 15 points or more. The Bobcats also spent the majority of the regular season ranked as the No. 1 team in RGVSports.com’s weekly girls basketball top 10 poll. To top it all off, Santa Maria helped Edinburg High reach the area round of the playoffs for the first time in her career following three appearances in the bi-district round.
“Our team chemistry was great,” Santa Maria said. “That has to be a key to much of the success that goes on in any program. We have all played with each other since we were in middle school or through traveling teams. We just wanted to win. We all had that chip on our shoulder from the previous years, and we didn’t want to go out in the playoffs empty-handed.”
The Bobcats advanced past the bi-district round of the UIL Class 6A state playoffs after putting away Los Fresnos 43-28 on Feb. 12. Edinburg’s season came to an end four days later in Corpus Christi with a 58-53 loss to Laredo United and former EHS head coach Rachel Carmona.
Trophies, wide margins of victory and scoring 2,207 career points aside, one moment stood out to Santa Maria more than the others.
“There are a lot of great games, but the one I’ll always remember is finishing undefeated in district (against PSJA North on Feb. 6),” Santa Maria said. “Holding the championship trophy on our home floor and having all our friends and family there to celebrate with us was special.”
As one part of her basketball career ends, Santa Maria would like to begin another next year at the collegiate level.
“It’s going to happen,” Santa Maria said. “I just have to decide on where I want to go. I’m looking at some NAIAs and DIIIs, but I want to go somewhere that’s comfortable for me. Not too far from home, because I want to stay a little close. I don’t want to stop playing unless I absolutely have to.”
With Santa Maria moving on, Salinas and the Bobcats program will have to do the same. But not before reflecting on a player instrumental in the resurgence of Edinburg High girls basketball.
“I’m extremely proud of her,” Salinas said. “The thing with Jayla is that she’s extremely humble. Being the Player of the Year, she still understood that she couldn’t do anything by herself. And she’s a great person. That’s what I’ll miss more about Jayla. Not so much her basketball skills, but the kind of person she is.”