Alchesay climbs rankings with winning streak

By Alastair Lee Bitsoi
Navajo Times

WHITERIVER, Ariz., February 2, 2012

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(Special to the Times - Andy Staten/White Mountain Independent)

Show Low's Josh Weeks drives toward the baseline as Alchesay's Kory Goklish defends and Cougar Jackson Jessop looks for an opportunity to set a pick during the Falcons' 54-40 in on Friday, Jan. 27.



With their backs against the wall, the Alchesay Falcons have developed into a cohesive unit and in the process are on a 4-game winning streak heading into this week's final stretch of regular season games.

"We are peaking, meaning that we are playing some good basketball at the right time," said Alchesay head coach Kyle Goklish of his senior-dominated team. "Focus has been our turnaround."

Just last week the Falcons (16-9) were in a downward spiral, having lost four straight games to rivals Snowflake, Holbrook, St. Johns and Blue Ridge by an average of 8.5 points.

Facing off with top-ranked Window Rock on Jan. 26 while on that losing streak didn't look promising for the Falcons either, especially since it was also their homecoming game, a distraction most coaches would say could derail a team's focus.

Despite the odds, the Falcons came ready to play. Strong defensive pressure, which led to easy transition points, high percentage shots and, more than anything, confidence helped to upend the Scouts, 70-57.

"We had trouble finishing games, and today we finally finished a game," Goklish told the Times on Jan. 26. "The main key for us was the teamwork, it was there tonight. We moved the ball well. I thought we did a good job of staying focused."

A complete game

Since the win against Window Rock last week, the Falcons have carried the momentum, which has resulted in consecutive victories against former 3A East rivals Show Low, Payson and Round Valley.

Against Show Low on Jan. 27, Alchesay played a complete game from start to finish, including running a 12-man rotation that wore out the Cougars, for a 54-40 win.

During the opening quarter of the game, Alchesay had built a 14-11 lead, behind the hot shooting from seniors Kyrel Lupe and Kendrick Stover.

In the second period, Alchesay's defense limited Show Low to just eight points, compared to their 14 points for a 28-19 lead at the break.

Alchesay's Lupe drilled two 3-pointers, while teammates Joel Cosay and Arnold Walker hit jumpers to give the Falcons the halftime lead.

The closest the Cougars got was 28-23, when Brigham Young University football-bound Josh Weeks assisted Austin Smith on two plays, with 6:19 left in the third.

Show Low's 4-0 run, however, was short-lived, as Stover hit a trey and Lupe scored on an offensive rebound, for a 35-23 Alchesay lead. By the end of the third quarter, the score was 43-33 in favor of the Falcons.

Midway through the final quarter, Cosay and Carlo Riley hit jumpers to keep the Falcons airborne with a 49-38 advantage. With 2:41 left, the Cougars started fouling the Falcons, who went 4 of 9 at the free-throw line for the 54-40 win.

Smith led Show Low with 12 points, while teammate Morgan Jessep poured in 11 points in the losing effort.

In addition to Lupe's 12 points, Stover also finished in double-digits with 11 points.


'The team to do it'

When asked about playing an NBA-style schedule the last several days, Goklish replied, "It sounds crazy - seven games in nine days - but if anything we have the team to do it. We are playing better as a team the last couple of games. I think we found a good rotation right now. I have a 12-man rotation. They're stepping up and responding."

On Tuesday, the Falcons continued their winning ways when they clashed with and defeated the Round Valley Elks, 74-61.

"We were up by seven at halftime and by the third quarter we broke the game open," Goklish said in a phone interview following the win. "We're trying to keep our legs fresh. This game was a whole different strategy than the Window Rock and Payson games. It was more of a chess match."

Certainly, Alchesay's 4-0-win streak is a positive sign, as the Falcons aim for sectional and state tournament play.

For one, Goklish has recognized the deficiencies that have plagued his team and is making adjustments accordingly.

"You're backed up against the wall, you got to win," Goklish said, admitting he didn't want to give away his secret recipe. "If we don't win, we'll be at home. That is a major motivational factor in itself. They know."

Second, the Falcons are buying into what the coaching staff is preaching - "we, supersedes me."

Relying on teamwork

Unlike the previous two seasons, this year's team relies on the concept of teamwork, particularly in the leadership of senior captains Joel Cosay and Brennen Parrish, who keep the team united.

"They tell us to stay as a team and they keep us together during tough times," Lupe said. "This is our last year and it's on the line. We got to give it all we got."

By listening to their coaching staff, the Falcons started focusing on areas needing improvement, which has resulted in them becoming a full 32-minute team.

"We were trying to figure out our problem. We tried to fix our problems and against Window Rock it was time to fix them," Lupe said, analyzing his team's progression. "I think the main difference is teamwork. We've been moving the ball and hitting the open guy. We've stepped it up on defense too."

"Most of the players on the team are seniors and our coach told us, 'Win or go home,'" added Cosay, who anchors the Falcons' offense and defense with his rebounding skills. "He motivated us and told us we could turn around our season. We took that to Thursday's game against Window Rock and that pumped us up just having that one win."

As a result of their last four wins, Alchesay jumped six spots to No. 14 in the state power rankings in Division III, and now own the No. 7 seed in Section I, which includes top-ranked Holbrook, No. 3 Snowflake, No. 7 Window Rock, and No. 10 St. Johns.

Postseason seeding

According to the Arizona Interscholastic Association's new alignment, which took effect this basketball season, the top 8 teams in each of the three sections in Division III qualify for the sectional tournament.

As a current top 8 power-ranked team in Section 1, Alchesay would be seeded No. 7 in the eight-team field, and could possibly increase their power ranking by winning their next three games for a better seed at sectionals.

The playoff push doesn't stop there for the Falcons. If they finish in the top four at sectionals, it would mean an automatic bid into the 24-team Division III state bracket, according to AIA's rules.

"The sectional tournament games are going to count for more power points," Goklish said. "If we make it into the sectional tournament we have a greater chance of making it to the state tournament."

With wins over St. Johns on Wednesday, Mogollon today, and Round Valley on Friday, it's possible Alchesay could continue its ascent up the power rankings.

To get there, Goklish said, requires his team not overlooking their opponents, something they did earlier in the season during that four-game losing streak.

"We've learned this year we can't take any one for granted. Mogollon from Division IV got us," Goklish said, adding that with no practice over the last nine days reminders such as the need to play defense and rebounding is crucial, particularly against St. Johns, who beat the Falcons 81-66 on Jan. 20 with a huge rebounding margin.

"St. Johns is going to be a tough test," Goklish added. "They always come ready to play us. I don't want to overlook anyone but that is a tough game."

So long as the Falcons continue preying on their opponents, their ascent up the power rankings could mean danger for teams at the sectional and state tournaments.

As of press time on Wednesday, scores were not available for the Alchesay and St. Johns game.

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