Chieftains look for respect from state
By Quentin Jodie
RIO RANCHO, N.M , Jan. 5, 2012
(Special to the Times - Donovan Quintero)
With a 10-2 record, the Shiprock boys' basketball team is considered the easy pick to win the District 1-3A crown.
The Chieftains have won seven straight games and has beaten every Class 4A school within San Juan County with the exception of Farmington.
But even with that sparkling record and impressive resume, second-year Chieftain coach Chester Atcitty Jr. is not buying into all this nonsense.
"I don't think we are set out to be the No. 1 team in the district," he said. "I respect the other teams that are out there. I consider Wingate and Zuni one of the favorites and any time you go to Crownpoint or Thoreau, it's a tough place to play.
"I think our district is the most balanced league out there," he added. "And no matter who we play, we need to continue to show up and treat every game like it's a playoff game."
Despite his neutral stance, Atcitty admitted that their early season success has been nothing short of spectacular. And that's due to the understanding they have.
"You know these kids are a talented group and all they need is a little bit of direction," he said. "But at the very beginning I got on to them about what I expect and the one thing I emphasize is teamwork.
"We win as a team and we lose as a team," he added. "We are not concerned about who scores the most. We work together and stay together."
That team concept goes beyond the court.
"We're like brothers," senior Keagan Nahkai said. "We've been playing together for a long time and we just jell with one another."
That was in full display at their most recent tournament as the Chieftains were deemed the champions in the Eagle bracket at the inaugural New Mexico American Indian Classic on Dec. 30 in Rio Rancho's Santa Ana Star Center.
In the first round of the round-robin tournament, Shiprock defeated Magdalena, 77-43, and edged Tohatchi, 78-75, in last Thursday's second round.
On Friday night, the Chieftains made easy work of Dulce with a 65-38 thumping. Shiprock had 12 players score with junior forward Patdric Toehe leading the attack with 21 points, which included three treys. Kevin Aspaas added 11 and Justin Begay finished with 10.
"We all played a good game, but it was kind of hard to maintain the intensity," Aspaas said. "(Dulce) was not as fast as Tohatchi."
Nonetheless, Atcitty said his team got the job done.
"For this tournament I thought we were real solid," he said. "We made some sound decisions and as a team we want to get better.
"And you know we are doing well, but this is not where we want to be," he added. "We want to continue to improve with each game. From the very get-go I told the guys free throws and lay-ups win games and we were able to do that."
More than anything, though, the Chieftains would like to get some recognition.
"We are starting to get that here in the Four Corners area and that's what we want," Atcitty said. "But it's hard to get that recognition at the state level."
These days getting that respect is easier said than done since the district hasn't won a state playoff game in years.
"Of course we would like to make the state playoffs, but that's our challenge right there," Atcitty said. "We want to go further than that. They know where we want to go and they know where we want to be and that's what we are working on."
On Jan. 13, Shiprock will have a chance to make some noise at the state level when they travel to St. Michael's in Santa Fe. The Horsemen are ranked No. 2 in the latest New Mexico High School Coaches Association poll.
"We're trying to establish ourselves," Aspaas said. "People (around the state) don't take us seriously."
Last year, the Chieftains won the district title over Wingate, but as a lower seed they had to make the long trip to Lovington where they came up short by a 70-43 count.
"Since it's my senior year I want us to go far in the (state) tournament," Nahkai said.
Granted it's still too early, the Chieftains have the talent and chemistry to do just that.