EDINBURG — Experience is one thing that can’t be taught.
It’s gained by having been through the grind, stepping inside the arena, and tasting the thrill of victory and agony of defeat.
For District 31-6A champion Edinburg Vela, the SaberCats have eight players back on this year’s team who experienced the glory that comes with a deep postseason run.
Last year’s squad, led by The Monitor’s Boys Basketball Player of the Year Noah Sekinger, advanced to the fourth round of the UIL Class 6A state playoffs as the SaberCats were one of the last 16 teams standing in Texas.
But with Sekinger graduating in 2019, it created an opportunity for a pair of leaders who have stepped up to spearhead this year’s SaberCat attack — senior guards Bobby Espericueta and Kaleb Coronado.
“It’s our turn to take on that role of scoring and getting everyone involved, being the floor generals. Last year, we would get the ball to Noah. Now, this year, it’s our turn,” Espericueta said.
Both Espericueta and Coronado have each increaed their scoring averages by more than six points compared to their junior seasons. They’ve become leaders for the SaberCats on and off the court.
Espericueta averages 16.9 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.3 steals a game. Meanwhile, Coronado is scoring 13.2 per outing to go with 4.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists, and just more than one steal. Each also shoot more than 40% from the field.
“We got to know our roles. We try to be leaders on the floor, lead by example, and we learned from last year’s seniors,” Coronado said. “We just want to be a great team, get our teammates involved, and we got to get going too, being seniors. We just have to play our part and do our job.”
Edinburg Vela second-year head coach Lucio Rodriguez said Espericueta and Coronado’s experience playing side-by-side has been key all season.
“This team plays for each other, and I’ve always said, Kaleb’s easiest basket is when Bobby passes it to him, and Bobby’s easiest basket is when Kaleb kicks it out to Bobby, so they play good in tandem, they know how to look for each other,” he said.
But it’s not only those two seniors. While they’re Edinburg Vela’s only players averaging double figures in scoring, the SaberCats’ roster is built as a deep, well-balanced team full of players who can step up and shoot from the outside or slash to the basket.
“It’s big because on any given night, any of our role players can have a big night and there’s several of them. It’s good to have that balance because when one’s not on, you know you have the trust of other guys stepping in and we’ve been able to balance that well,” Rodriguez said.
After winning the 31-6A district championship with an 11-1 record, the SaberCats’ focus shifts to the playoffs, a place the Vela boys hoops program is plenty familiar with.
“The good thing is we have eight players back from last year. They understand the process of getting to the fourth round, so they’ll lead the rest of the young guys and try to build that,” Rodriguez said. “They know the kind of work it takes to get there, and hopefully we can build that team to get us into those late rounds.”
The first postseason challenge for the SaberCats this year will be against the San Benito Greyhounds, the No. 4 seed from District 32-6A. While San Benito doesn’t boast a winning district record at 3-7, the SaberCats don’t intend on taking any team lightly.
“We’re a team that focuses on us and we want to do what we’re good at. It’s not about winning the game. It’s about how we win and we got to play Vela basketball,” Rodriguez said. “We don’t overlook anybody. We just want to be the best version of ourselves that night.”
Tip-off of the Class 6A Region 4 bi-district matchup between Edinburg Vela and San Benito is slated for 7 p.m. Monday at Edinburg Vela High School.