Edinburg High’s return to regional tourney nets Salinas COY award

McALLEN — J.D. Salinas applied for the Edinburg High job at a precarious time in the program’s history.

His former boss, Rachel Carmona, was let go by Edinburg CISD in the spring of 2012. It was also a time when the district was preparing for the opening of its fourth public high school: Edinburg Vela.

“I felt like I was ready for the job. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have applied,” Salinas said. “I had some great years working for Coach Carmona. We made a lot of playoff appearances over my seven years working with her. But when you take over a program where the school splits (into Edinburg Vela), I’ve been extremely blessed to have the support of my family and the administration. We struggled a little bit early on, but little by little, we developed the program to where we were this year.”

In addition to sharing a district title with Weslaco High in 2018-19, Salinas took the Bobcats back to the UIL regional tournament since Carmona roamed the sidelines. Salinas is The Monitor’s 2018-19 All-Area Girls Basketball Coach of the Year.

Edinburg High had a team built to make noise led by a familiar face. Senior guard Jenessah Santa Maria was a supporting player on last season’s top-ranked team that won a playoff game before losing to Rachel Carmona’s Laredo United Longhorns in the second round.

Santa Maria’s older sister, Jayla, was The Monitor’s 2017-18 All-Area Player of the Year. Jenessah elevated her game in her final season as a Bobcat, averaging 19.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.9 steals per game.

Like McAllen Memorial’s Tani Talamantez and Brownsville Hanna’s Mia Paz, Santa Maria was a part of the Texas Girls Coaches Association’s Class 6A All-State team.

“First and foremost, Jenessah is a great kid,” Salinas said. “She understood her role as an underclassman from her freshman, sophomore and junior seasons. Being a part of the program for the last three years and seeing the success that we’ve had, it wouldn’t have happened without Jenessah’s leadership. We had so much laying on her shoulders since the beginning of the year.”

The Bobcats weren’t able to get off to the start that they wanted due to injuries. Two of their starters from 2017-18, wing A’nnika Saenz and forward Brianna Sanchez, were out for much of the preseason portion of their schedule.

“That comes down to coaching and I’m not going to take all the credit for it,” Salinas said. “(Assistant) Coach (George) Olvera and I work really well together, as well as the rest of my staff. The understanding of what it takes to win at the varsity level doesn’t happen by rolling the balls out on Tuesday and Friday and just playing. We watch a lot of film and adjust where we can to put our kids in the right situation even with the obstacle of kids who were hurt.”

Edinburg High earned a lucky draw on its side of the Region IV playoff bracket. The Bobcats didn’t leave the Valley for its first, second or third round games against Brownsville Hanna, PSJA North and Harlingen High.

In its third-round game against the Cardinals, Edinburg High went on a 20-0 second quarter run and held on to it in a 20-point win that sent EHS to the regional semifinal round in San Antonio. The Bobcats bowed out to San Antonio Clark in the Sweet 16.

The bond remains strong between Salinas and Carmona, who is currently an assistant under Clarisse Arredondo at McAllen Memorial.

“I was so glad to see her at the regional quarterfinal game against Harlingen,” Salinas said. “She came over and congratulated me as well. It was nice to enjoy that moment with a coach I worked with for a very long time.”