Valley girls learn from state tourney loss

By Quentin Jodie
Navajo Times

SANDERS, Ariz., Jan. 26, 2012

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(Times photo - Paul Natonabah)

Valley's Chelena Betoney (22) drives past Holbrook's Aaren LaRose (11) for a basket in the third period Jan. 20 at Holbrook High. Valley defeated Holbrook, 65-56.

With just over four minutes left in last Friday night's game, you could almost sense the Valley girls' basketball team was in trouble.

While holding on to a precarious 55-49 cushion over Holbrook, the Lady Pirates had to play without junior guard Chelena Betoney.

At that point, Betoney picked up her fifth foul and before that she scorched the Lady Roadrunners with 26 points including back-to-back treys that gave Valley that six-point advantage.

"We've seen this before," Valley coach Julia Six said. "We were in the same situation at state last year with Scottsdale Christian and we lost in triple overtime."

In that game, Six said her team just "froze up" when Betoney fouled out. Without her, the Pirates ended their season with a heartbreaking 56-55 loss in the second round of the 2A state tournament.

"When that happened we just fell apart," she said.

And with Betoney on the bench last Friday night, it hinted that trouble was ahead.

For one it gave Holbrook a pulse, and with four minutes left the Roadrunners had plenty of time to draw even and, perhaps, win the game with their trapping defense.

But since that loss to Scottsdale Christian, the Pirates have learned a thing or two.

"You know last year we had a really young team and every game was a learning experience for them," Six said. "But this year they know how to play without her."

To help prove her point, the Pirates outscored Holbrook 9-7 with Betoney riding the bench and won the game by a 65-56 count.

"The girls came together and stepped it up," Six said. "I'm really proud that they did that."

In those last four minutes, it was senior Kayla Katoney and Tamara Nez who steadied the Pirates' ship.

Katoney, who finished with 15 points, hit a turnaround jumper to give Valley a 59-52 lead with 1:53 to go.

Holbrook then answered with a trey by Tamisha Yazzie, but at the other end Nez hit a layup for a 61-55 cushion.

In their next two trips, Holbrook had a hard time finding the hole while Katoney and Yazzie added two scores as the Pirates widened their lead to 10 points before Holbrook hit a meaningless free throw down the stretch.

"I knew they could do it," Betoney said. "I had confidence in them."

More than anything, though, it brought to light the differences between last season and this year's 23-1 team.

"Because we were so young last year, I didn't know how we were going to finish," Six said. "I wasn't expecting them to do well because of prior years."

What they did last season was set a new record in terms of wins by going 22-7. And despite having no experience heading into state, the Pirates won a state playoff game for the first time in as many seasons.

Because of their breakthrough year, the Lady Pirates are no longer considered the underdogs when it comes to Arizona prep girls basketball.

Instead they have earned the respect among some of the area coaches. Like many great teams, the Pirates have the tools to make a deep run in next month's Division III state championship.

"Last year we kind of surprised everyone, but I think we are a lot better this year," Betoney said.

The junior guard attributed that to summer tournaments and so far that's been paying dividends as the Pirates were ranked No. 6 in the latest power ranking.

But their recent rise has a lot to do with the chemistry on the team.

"We've been playing with each other since we were in seventh grade," said Adriana Nez, Valley's other point guard.

Rather than work as individuals, Nez said, they work as a unit.

"We win as a team and we lose as a team," she said. "I think our communication helps too because we're strong at playing defense."

And while their chemistry is unparalleled, both players agree that the biggest difference they see is the confidence they have in their game.

"We're just more aggressive this year," Betoney said.

In their game against Holbrook, the Roadrunners did all they could to blitz the Pirates and sometimes their full-court trap created turnovers.

"They really pressured us," Betoney said. "The last time we played they weren't (as) aggressive. At times we couldn't get the ball across the court."

But when they did it led to easy layups as Valley seized a 30-18 halftime lead.

"Holbrook is a really good trapping team," Six said. "We got trapped a couple of times and turned it over."

While making reference to a recent loss to Window Rock, Six said her team played through that and for the most part they didn't let their guard down.

"When we played Window Rock we lost a big lead with turnovers," she said. "You know, we did that with Holbrook (on Friday night) with our long passes, but we learned from that because we didn't make the mistake over and over again."

Incidentally, that 46-42 loss to Window Rock is the Pirates' only blemish, but on Feb. 1, they have a chance to avenge that.

"I am glad we get to play them again," Six said. "But were taking it one game at a time."

Before that big clash, the Pirates have three games on their schedule starting with St. Michael tonight. On Friday, they host Many Farms, a team that is also churning out more wins than most people would have expected in this new realignment year.

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