McALLEN — Mission Veterans seniors Ronnie Cantu and Kaylee Flores have played basketball and developed their skillsets together since the beginning of middle school.
Those years of familiarity and hours of experience with each other helped Cantu and Flores forge exceptional chemistry and thrive playing alongside one another. Together, the Patriots’ senior guards became the deadliest scoring duo in the Rio Grande Valley and helped lift Mission Vets to new heights earning them The Monitor’s All-Area Offensive Players of the Year award.
“It was really fun because of that connection that we had,” Flores said.
“We were able to feed off of each other throughout the years and our connection has just really grown as we’ve grown,” Cantu said. “I think that this year was really historic because it was our final season playing together and it was just that realization factor. It was our last season, our senior season, and we really wanted to gout with a bang, especially together.”
Throughout their time playing hoops together, Flores and Cantu’s dynamic on the court gradually evolved along with their playing styles. After multiple seasons together at the varsity level, Cantu and Flores changed their approach and elevated their play to become two of the Valley’s most sure-fire shooters.
“Looking back to my sophomore year when Kaylee and I started playing together in high school, she was the scorer. It was a matter of getting her the ball. She was bound to make half the shots she took from behind the arc and I did more of handling the ball,” Cantu said. “Then coming into our senior season, we kind of realized we’re expected of (doing) a lot more, not necessarily on the defense end or the ball-handling end, but on the scoring end. This was the way that we were going to get our scoring and it was a matter of feeding off of each other and keeping that connection.”
That connection proved invaluable for the Patriots this season, as Flores and Cantu helped generate a lion’s share of the team’s offense.
Flores averaged a team-high 18.4 points, 2.1 assists and 3.6 assists per game as Mission Veterans’ go-to 3-point shooter. On top of being named a unanimous First Team All-District selection in District 31-5A, Flores’ 643 regular season points made her the Valley’s scoring champ for the year.
“I think my dad’s been keeping stats, so when he told me I was blown away,” she said. “I didn’t expect it. It was crazy. It blew me away and caught me off guard.”
Cantu, meanwhile, earned a spot on 31-5A’s All-Defensive Team and won the district’s Most Valuable Player award. She averaged 15.9 points, 4.3 assists and 4.5 steals per contest as Mission Veterans’ starting point guard.
Cantu and Flores were two of the first three players in the RGV to tally 400 points on the season and together they helped lead the Patriots’ to a 23-12 record, a 10-4 mark in district play and their third consecutive playoff appearance.
What set the Mission Veterans duo apart most, though, was its resiliency and ability to fight with its back against the wall first demonstrated during a memorable game in the Border Bash-Border Brawl Tournament.
“I had just gotten off of volleyball season, and I had only picked up a basketball once or twice before I had gone into that tournament. I know the girls were working together and stuff, so when I jumped into the team our first game of the tournament was Corpus Christi King,” Cantu said. “We had lost to them last year by I think about three points. … They came in underestimating us from the start laughing and just being really arrogant.”
“(They were trash-talking) from warmups until the last few seconds of the game when they realized they lost,” Flores said. “We went into the second half down 20. They thought they had the game in the bag already, but we had to go out because we weren’t going to give up. We kept going and then Ronnie had like a 30-point game and brought us back into it. She was throwing up 3s left and right and that got us going so our momentum was just off the charts.”
Flores and Cantu put their crunch-time play on display again with a tight bi-district win over Valley View, the Patriots’ first playoff win during their high school tenure, and a valiant second-half comeback against Flour Bluff in an area-round defeat.
Cantu and Flores combined for 34 of the team’s 39 points and came within a shot of taking the lead in the final seconds of a four-point loss.
“This game really just epitomized this season, I think, because we’ve kind of been the comeback kids, the underdogs coming into the playoffs,” Cantu said. “Although it didn’t fall our way, we couldn’t be mad after the game. We could only be happy and proud about what we’ve done with our season because it was a great game and it was a really historic season and a season that we were never going to forget.”