Lady Pirates ready for next step: a state championship

By Quentin Jodie
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, January 31, 2013

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(Special to the Times –Donovan Quintero)

TOP: A Valley Lady Pirate looks to pass the ball past defending Lady Cardinal Hunter Begaye (33) Jan. 24 in Window Rock.

SECOND FROM TOP: A Lady Pirate catches the ball Jan. 24 in Window Rock.

S ince the realignment took place last season, the Valley Lady Pirates have become accustomed to its new setting.

And for the last two years, the Lady Pirates has become the one of the most successful giant slayers in Arizona Division III.

Surprisingly, the only thing missing in their resume is a state quarterfinal appearance.

This includes the 2010-11 season when they lost to Scottsdale Christian in the second round of the 2A state basketball tournament. That game went into three overtimes before the Lady Eagles sent Valley packing with heartbreaking, 56-55, loss.

Then last season, the Pirates entered the Division III state tournament as the No. 3 seed. But after receiving a bye in the first round, their season ended prematurely with a 69-53 defeat to No. 14 Tuba City, a team they beat a week earlier during the sectional tournament.

So this begs the question: what's the next step for this program?

"We want to got a lot further than the first round," Lady Pirate guard Chelena Betoney said. "We knew that we had a chance last year and we knew we had a chance the year before.

"We just didn't get the job done," she added.

As the saying goes part of the problem lies between their ears, according to Valley coach Julia Six.

"I think a lot of it has to do with having that self confidence," Six said. "My message to them is they can compete with anyone. It doesn't matter who the competition is."

The third-year coach elaborated on that observation and said while they competed in 2A, her team had their doubts with teams like Valley Christian and nearby rival St. Johns.

"I don't know why, but for some reason when they heard those names they would have doubts," she said. "That was one of the things we had to overcome."

Some of that doubt and uncertainty showed up in their rematch with Tuba City in the state tournament last season Six said.

"Tuba was killing us down below and I told the kids we needed to play man-to-man defense," she said. "But they doubted themselves and they stuck with a zone (defense), but we learned something from that game."

Nowadays she said her team has a better understanding of the X's and O's when comes to defense.

"They know when to make those adjustments," she said.

And while she called that a strength, most teams would agree that the Pirates have a lot of good shooters and ball handlers, which plays to their advantage since they don't have a true post player.

For the most part, it's been Betoney and Adrinna Nez who are hurting their foes with their crisp shooting and speed. But there are also other role players that have contributed to the Pirates' success as they improved to 20-2 win after Tuesday night's 88-40 win over Pinon.

"Kristan Quigley has been one of my floor generals," Six said. "She tells what needs to be done and you know Bettina Swatts has gotten aggressive."

Last season, Swatts was a part-time starter and this year's she has seen her playing time increase significantly.

"They played me here and there, but this year I am playing more because we graduated all of our post players," Swatts said.

Swatts said last season's early exit really hurt and she does not want to experience the same this year.

"We took it hard," she said. "But I think it motivated us more because we are seniors this year. We want to make it all the way to the championship game."

At press time, the Pirates were ranked No. 2 in the latest Arizona Interscholastic Association polls and would have faced top-ranked Window Rock on Wednesday night for the third time this season.

In their first meeting with the Scouts, the Pirates came up short and lost 55-52 decision on Dec. 18 before they evened the score with a 64-54 a week later at the Winslow Winter Classic last month.

"The first time we played them we didn't play our best," Nez said. "We weren't communicating out there, so we got beat."

On Friday, Pirates will close out the regular season at home with Joseph City and like most teams they are anticipating the release of next month's postseason brackets, which starts with the sectional tournament on Tuesday.

"It's going to be anybody's game," Six said of this year's state tournament. "It's going to be a whole new season, but I would like for us to continue to make progress."

For better or worse, part of that progress includes making a deep run at this year's tournament.

"That is very important to us," Swatts said.

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