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There are plenty of surprises in District 30-5A that fans have found fascinating during the 2011-12 boys basketball season. Examples would be Sharyland freshman guard Jesse Pistokache and his rise as perhaps the best player in the district or Nikki Rowe’s valiant defense of its district title. However, perhaps those two stories or any other, pale in comparison to the Palmview Lobos’ rise not only as a playoff contender but perhaps even a title contender.

“Am I surprised?” asked Lobo head basketball coach Andy Saenz. “Maybe there is a difference between hope and surprised. I am not surprised. I know how hard these kids worked [in the offseason]. They did it every day in the athletic period. They worked their tail off in open gym and showed up to everything. Most people probably are surprised from the outside looking in but people that are here every day know how hard these kids work.”

Why is Palmview’s success such a surprise to the outside public? For one, the school itself is only in its fourth year, meaning this is the first year that the athletes in the various programs consist of players who have spent their entire high school career at Palmview, with no time at La Joya.

Second, while some programs have found success like boys and girls cross country and track, for the most part, the Palmview teams have struggled to compete, especially in the bigger and well known sports. For instance, football has had relative success but has been unable to finish in the top four in district play.

Third, head coach Andy Saenz has only been with the program for just over a year. In the 2010-11 season, Saenz came in during the late summer after departing head coach Charles Hickman returned to his hometown in north Texas. On paper that first year was a disaster, finishing near the bottom of district play.

However, Saenz has quietly been changing things around by pushing his players to work harder, get stronger and improve throughout the year.

“The way you practice is the way you play,” says Saenz of his mentality. “I was always taught [that] practice doesn’t make perfect but perfect practice makes perfect. I am a pretty intense guy. I want them to be intense, 100% of the time and give me 150% of what they have.”

Those leading the team are Mario De La Garza, Dominic Garza and Danny Rios. De La Garza is the team’s leading scorer, Garza provides points in the paint and Rios is capable of hitting the three and driving to the basket. However, Saenz is quick to point out that there plenty of players who can step up in addition to those three, such as Hector Gallegos and Armando Gallegos.

One of the keys to this year’s success has been matching the mental conditioning with the physical. Turning a losing program to suddenly one that is competing with the district’s top teams takes the experience of winning the close games, not being afraid of an opponent based on its history and overcoming hostile road crowds.

“I think the [mental aspect is] the biggest thing. I always tell my kids they look great physically but the mental aspect is the biggest part that they struggle with. It’s not that they can’t keep up with these teams physically….You live and learn and we are learning on the fly.”

Saenz made that statement almost two weeks ago after losing to Sharyland and Nikki Rowe back-to-back. The Lobos had just risen to no. 2 in the latest Freedom Valley Poll. Since then the Lobos have responded well by beating up the tradition rich McHi Bulldogs 58-37, on the road against the Memorial Mustangs, 49-47, and then the Mission Eagles, 70-48.

On Friday the team will welcome rival La Joya. The Coyotes are struggling so far this season but are not so far behind that they still can’t compete for a top four showing. A win tonight would go a long way for La Joya.

For Palmview, part of that mental aspect is the ability to win on the road, beat the big teams and, perhaps most importantly, take down the easy teams without making it any harder than it should be.

“We are not going to stop working,” says Saenz. “That is our motto: to keep working no matter what.”

Quick Look at Palmview Basketball

Head Coach: Andy Saenz

Record: 21-5, 6-2

District 30-5A Standing: T-Second with Nikki Rowe

Upcoming Games:

Jan. 27             La Joya

Jan. 31             at Sharyland

Feb. 3              Nikki Rowe

Feb. 7              Donna

Feb. 10                        at McHi

Feb. 14                        Memorial

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