Class 3A tournament

Shiprock, SFIS girls shake off early nerves and advance

By Quentin Jodie
Navajo Times

ALBUQUERQUE, March 14, 2013

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(Times photo – Donovan Quintero)

TOP: Santa Fe Indian School's Jennifer Willie (3) eyes the basket while going up for two points as Pojoaque Valley's Tracy Ortiz (5) attempts to block her shot Tuesday night at the Pit in Albuquerque. Santa Fe defeated Pojoaque Valley, 51-41, and heads into the Final Fo


A Pojoaque Valley defender blocks Santa Fe Indian School's Jennifer Willie Tuesday night in Alqbuquerque. The Lady Braves defeated Pojoaque Valley, 51-41.

O ne player wanted to faint and puke while another explained the antsy feeling she was experiencing before coming down the ramp at the world famous Pit in Albuquerque.

Those are the kind of emotions that almost every player endures while playing before a large crowd.

Santa Fe Indian School senior forward Daniella Nelson experienced the former while Shiprock guard Shania Harry underwent the latter.

Nonetheless both players powered their teams into the semifinals of the New Mexico Class 3A girls' state basketball tournament on Tuesday.

As the tournament's No. 4 seed, the Lady Chieftains were the first team to advance as they cruised to a 52-34 win over the No. 5 Taos Tigers.

No. 2 SFIS, meanwhile, got steadily better as the game went on and posted a 51-41 win over No. 7 Pojoaque Valley.

Both teams will be in action today as the Chieftains will square up against No. 1 Hope Christian at 8 a.m., while SFIS will have a chance to make things right against No. 6 Lovington in an 11:30 a.m. showdown.

Last year, Lovington beat SFIS in the championship game on a controversial last-second foul that helped produce a 49-48 win.

The winners from today's game will meet in the championship game on Friday, which is scheduled for 1:30 p.m.


With very little to go by, Shiprock coach Larenson Henderson admitted that he was going to play it by ear against No. 5 Taos on Tuesday.

"It's always good to get a feel for a team, see what they're capable of doing," Henderson said. "We kind of saw their ball-handling wasn't as great so we thought that we'd step up the press a little bit."

That seemed to be the recipe for success as Shiprock forced the Tigers into 22 turnovers thanks to their trapping defense.

"It got us a lot of steals and we were able to go down and score a couple of hoops," Henderson said.

Three of those steals helped the Chieftains break a 10-10 stalemate as they went up 17-10 on a transition layup by Arantxa Curley with 5:49 to go in the first half.

"I thought they were very active with their hands and feet," Taos coach Robert Trujillo said. "I thought they did their homework and pinched the post well. It was pretty hard for us to reverse it over the top."

Later in the quarter Taos committed three straight turnovers, which led to easy baskets at the other end as Shiprock pushed its lead to 25-13 on back-to-back buckets by Harry.

"Our hands were already sweaty; we were getting close to screaming even though (we were still) in the locker room," said Harry when asked about how they felt coming into the Pit.

They seemed to put to rest those early nerves at the start of the second half as Shiprock went on a 12-6 run by pounding the ball inside for a 41-25 lead with Courtney Steele scoring two of her 11 points.

In that run, Chiashonya Nelson also made her presence known by scoring on a putback as the Chieftains had a 37 to 29 edge on the boards.

The two Shiprock post players combined for 12 of those rebounds with Steele hauling in eight. 

"That was surprising for me," Henderson said. "My two big players – Courtney and Chiashonya – sometimes they can step up and play huge like that."

In today's semifinal, Henderson said he'll need that kind of effort from them but he expects this game to be won with backcourt players.

"If we can move our feet, stay down and play good, solid defense and cut their playing game, let's see what they can do to stop (our) running game," Henderson said. "I feel like they haven't played a team like us. I have guards that can run the floor, too, and they can stop and play defense."

In Tuesday's game, Shiprock's guards displayed that as Taylor Henderson led the way with 13 points while Geovania Harry finished with eight.

Santa Fe Indian

In most games the Santa Fe Indian team has no trouble establishing the tempo of the game, but in their quarterfinal match-up with Pojoaque Valley they had some early jitters to deal with.

That was pretty obvious as the Elkettes staked at a 6-0 lead to start Tuesday's contest.

But with 4:19 to go Santa Fe senior forward Daniella Nelson got her first bucket to drop, which seem to help calm her nerves as she finished the game with 22 points and 12 rebounds.

"Oh, my god, at the beginning…I felt like I wanted to faint and puke," Nelson said. "I didn't think I was going to have a good game. I was kind of surprised, but after my first score I got the jitters out of the way."

"It's natural for them to have jitters, it's natural to be excited," SFIS coach Cindy Roybal added. "It's part of being here and once she started playing it was show time."

She was exactly right as the Braves took its second lead of the night at 12-10 on a transitional layup by Jennifer Willie with more than a minute left in the opening quarter.

"We weren't being patient and we weren't penetrating the way we're supposed to," Willie said when asked about their sloppy start, which included six early turnovers.

"It was really just not listening to the coach," she said. "Once we got our mindset and stuff and got what we wanted to do, we only had one goal."

Still it took more than one half for the Braves to distance themselves from Pojoaque.

In the middle of the second quarter the Elkettes got two consecutive treys from Miranci Martinez and momentarily seized a 22-20 lead with 4:42 to go.

But Nelson went back to work and scored seven straight points as the Braves took a 30-26 lead heading into the break.

Nelson scored five more points in the second half, but the Braves got a much-need boost from senior post Bridget Lee as she put in 11 of her 12 points in the last 16 minutes of play.

Her old fashion three-point play with 2:19 to go in the third quarter gave SFIS a 40-29 cushion, a lead they maintained for the rest of the game.

"I know that we came out kind of sluggish and we had the jitters," Lee said, adding that they couldn't overlook Pojoaque even though they already had their minds' set on Lovington.

"We're going to have fans on the edge of their seats," Lee said of today's rematch. "If we stay focused and do what we are told from our coach, we have a good chance of pulling out a win." 

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