Local standouts join Lady Magic, earn NABI title

By Alastair Lee Bitsoi
Navajo Times

PHOENIX, June 19, 2012

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(Times photo – Alastair Bitsoi)

Lady Magic, of St. Michaels, Ariz., pose with their championship trophy during the Native American Basketball Invitational on Sunday. Lady Magic beat the N.M. Spears, of Shiprock, N.M., 62-52, for the title.

F or the past three years, Navajo teams have captured the 10th annual Native American Basketball Invitational title in the girl's division.

This year was no different as the Lady Magic team from St. Michaels, Ariz., claimed that honor and continued the dominance at NABI.

In the championship game of the gold-division bracket, Lady Magic beat the N.M. Spears, of Shiprock, N.M., 62-52, and finished with an 8-0 tournament record to win their first title.

"This is the third time we came to this tournament," said Lady Magic head coach Al Tsedah, whose team finished second to three-time NABI champion Unknown Ballerz, 47-38, last year.

As soon as they walked off the court after the loss to Unknown Ballerz last summer, the Lady Magic team became more committed with the goal of winning the national title this year.

"Ever since last year at the end of NABI we've been on a mission to come back strong and with a win," said Santa Fe Indian School's Bridget Lee, one of 13 players on the Lady Magic squad. "We really wanted it as a team."

Part of why winning NABI is so gratifying for the coach and his players is because his program, Lady Magic Basketball, is officially on the map as a club team, Tsedah said.

"We always wanted to see this. It feels good," added Tsedah, who founded the team in 1994. "This group started playing together about four years ago when they were 12 and under."

This group is a collection of standout players such as Many Farms' Brianna Clah, Navajo Pine's Demetria Clichee, Piedra Vista's Amanda Chee and Brianna Walking Eagle, Sanders' Chelona Betoney, Heather Mitchell and Kristen Quigley, Santa Fe Indian School's Bridget Lee and Danielle Nelson, and Naomi Clah of Window Rock.

"Its about them," Tsedah said adding that his program has teams for 12-, 14- and 16-and-under divisions.

"I tell them by luck or chance they are going to be asked a lot of questions by neighboring schools here," Tsedah said of the Valley's community colleges. "That is the main focus of the program – to be exposed and promote our Navajo players out there at the national level."

Of course, "Division 1 is the goal," he said. "Junior college and Division II is good, too."

Prior to the NABI tournament, Tsedah said his team also won a tournament at the Ak-Chin Indian Reservation, in late June. The tournament featured seven other girl's teams who competed during NABI, including the Salt River Lady Warriors who made the gold-division Final Four.

En route to the NABI title, the Lady Magic went undefeated in pool play and had to brush off the likes of Team Arizona, Angie's Squad of Whiteriver, Ariz., and Hoop-n-Beauty of Winslow, Ariz., to square off against the Spears.

In the opening minutes of the title game, the Lady Magic held an early 13-8 lead, behind the transition game and shooting of Betoney, Clichee and Nelson.

Following a Spears timeout at the 15-minute mark, the Lady Magic stretched their lead to 29-13, with Clichee, Clah and Lee contributing to the run.

The Spears, however, managed a run of their own, behind the playmaking of Kirtland Central's Arnetia Begay, who lead all scorers with a game-high 14 points. At half time, Lady Magic held a 33-21 advantage.

The second half began much like the first half – all Lady Magic. Lee scored 4 points to begin the half, which deflected the momentum from the Spears.

With 9:48 left in regulation, the Lady Magic held a 48-32 lead. Teamwork, which consisted of multiple fast-break opportunities and offensive sets, resulted in a balance attack by the Lady Magic.

Clah, who was voted as the tournament's most valuable player, scored 5 of her 10 points during that run.

The Spears closed the gap on the Lady Magic when Begay, Shiprock's Aranxta Curley and Farmington's Chenoa Simpson combined for 10 points.

By then, however, the game was settled, as Nelson closed out the game for the Lady Magic at the free-throw line, resulting in the 62-52 victory.

Lady Magic had four players in double-figures. Clichee lead the way with 12 points, while Betoney, Clah and Nelson each scored 10 apiece.

Begay led the Spears with 14 points and Curley with 10 points.

Spears head coach Larry Henderson said poor shooting contributed to the lost.

"We came out shooting flat," he said. "Both of us can shoot the ball well. We couldn't buy a bucket. If we had made our shots, it would have been a different story."

One of those players who struggled with shooting was Kirtland Central's Raquel Woody, who saw her shot roll in and out on numerous occasions.

"I was really flat. Only three games I shot the ball really well," said Woody, who will play for Mesa Community College in the fall. "Honestly, we never played where all of us were flat all at the same time."

Despite the runner-up finish, Woody said she was satisfied to conclude her high school career on a positive note with the Spears and is looking forward to junior college basketball.

"It was fun our last time," Woody said adding that since seventh grade she's traveled with the Spears across the country to play in basketball tournaments. "I'm excited about the new things in my life. I'm kind of nervous. But I'm excited overall."

The Spears mostly consisted of players that suited up for the Kirtland Central Lady Broncos, who won the New Mexico Class 4A state title in March.

The team included players from that squad including Begay, sisters Kalen and Taylor Henderson and Woody. Farmington's Simpson, Kayenta Monument Valley's Naomi Whitehair, Monument Valley, Utah's Destinee Holiday, and Shiprock's Curley and Danielle Johnson were also on the team.

For the Lady Magic, who returns most of their line-up, a third trip to the title game is already a goal.

"More than half will be seniors next year," Tsedah said. "There is a good chance to repeat next year."

The bulk of the team returns, including Many Farm's Clah, Navajo Pine's Clichee, Santa Fe Indian's duo of Lee and Nelson, Valley High's Betoney and Window Rock's Naomi Clah.

As for winning the MVP award, Clah said she was surprised considering the number of talented players on the team.

"I was pretty surprised because there is a lot of good players on our team," Clah said. "I didn't think I was going to get it. I didn't think I was MVP too."

"For the past four years, Navajo girls have taken it," Clah added. "All these tribes come and it's always Navajo that is winning. It's pretty good."

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