McALLEN — Regardless of where she was on the court, the basketball eventually found its way to Hidalgo forward Barbie Gutierrez.
This season, Gutierrez was the unanimous selection as District 32-4A’s Most Valuable Player, scoring 17.2 points per game. But much was expected of her and her Pirates teammates on the defensive end.
Gutierrez’s eye-popping defensive numbers (11.1 rebounds, 5.3 steals and 2.2 blocks) made the senior the choice as The Monitor’s 2018-19 All-Area Girls Basketball Defensive Player of the Year.
“I don’t know how I got a nose for the ball because I didn’t start playing until I was in junior high,” Gutierrez said. “That’s when I started taking it seriously and putting more time and attention to it.”
“Her fire and willingness to get better is what I enjoyed most about coaching her. She’s one of those girls who could do it all,” Hidalgo coach Saul Arjona said. “She started out as a post player, but then she turned into a five-dimensional player. I’m happy for her. Her attitude and leadership will be missed here. It’s going to be hard to replace.”
Gutierrez is the second consecutive 32-4A unanimous MVP coached by Arjona. One of Arjona’s daughters, Ashley, was the Most Valuable Player during the 2017-18 season.
“I don’t think of them like that. I just saw that both of these girls worked hard,” Arjona said. “I can’t keep Barbie out of the gym. I’ll tell them, ‘OK, it’s time to get out. We have to go,’ but they’re gym rats. They want to get better because they love the game. Barbie’s already a good volleyball player, and she also plays softball, but she always comes back to the gym. Barbie’s something else.”
With Ashley Arjona last season, the Pirates won 31 games with 13 of them coming in district play. This year’s club reached territory that last year’s team was not able to achieve.
Despite the loss of Arjona and an injury to key sharpshooter Elisa De La Peña, Hidalgo won 35 games and rolled through its district with an undefeated 14-0 record.
“We knew we still had a good team with a lot of us returning, but we didn’t know if we could fill her (Arjona’s) shoes,” Gutierrez said. “We looked up to Ashley, but we knew what we had to do to get better.”
The Pirates, who were the last team standing in the third round of the playoffs last season, had their 2018-19 campaign end in an all too familiar fashion. Hidalgo dropped its second-round game to Crystal City, 56-53.
Crystal City was the same team that ended the Pirates’ postseason in 2017.
“They (Crystal City) also beat us in the second round during my freshman year,” Gutierrez said. “But we were a totally different team back then. We were all still underclassmen, so we weren’t as experienced as we needed to be. I honestly believe that we could have beat them. I guess we felt so much pressure, myself included. And it’s never felt like that at all this season. We could have had them.”
Losing in the playoffs won’t be Gutierrez’s lasting memory as a Pirate.
“I enjoyed watching every single one of my teammates play whether I was in the game or on the bench,” Gutierrez said. “They’ve done so many things differently than the way they did them last year. I’m impressed and inspired by them. I know how hard they worked.”