In the thick of it

'MV Lady Cougars enter critical stretch

By Candace Begody
Navajo Times

ROCK POINT, Ariz., February 2, 2012

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(Special to the Times - Donovan Quintero)

Monument Valley Lady Cougar Destinee Holiday shoots as Rock Point Lady Cougar Karla John (11) guards her Saturday night in Rock Point. Rock Point defeated the Lady Cougars, 73-59.

The Monument Valley Lady Cougars have never won a state title in Utah's Class 1A.

But now that the team has Destinee Holiday, a former starter for Monument Valley High in Kayenta, the team is moving toward that goal with more confidence than they've had in a long time.

"ƒThe season before this season, the team had seniors that had potential and they helped them get to the state playoffs," said Holiday, now a starting guard for the Lady Cougars. "But it's the closest they've ever gotten. When they lost their seniors last year, I think they thought they'd never make it this far.

"They were talked down by a lot of people and I don't think they had a lot of confidence," she added, "but I told them I was here to help them. I wasn't here to degrade them but to help them because it's my community too and this is where I came from."

Holiday, who was a three-year starting point guard for the Monument Valley Lady Mustangs, as a freshman helped the Mustangs secure a 3A state title in 2009.

But after the Mustangs lost to the Window Rock Lady Scouts in last year's state championship game (41-20), Holiday transferred to the Utah school to be closer to family.

Holiday is currently averaging 20.4 points, 3.6 assists, 2.1 rebounds, and 5.4 steals per game, according to MaxPreps.

But even with those numbers, head coach Jack Seltzer said he is not looking too far ahead.

"We are just trying to get to the state tournament," said Seltzer, who has been head coach at Monument Valley for 29 years. "We have never won a state title, but right now we are not even thinking about winning a state title. We are just trying to make sure we get there."

Last year, the Lady Cougars made it to the state tournament but were beat out by Intermountain Christian in the first round and then Green River in the second round.

Though the Cougars, who play in Region 19, have yet to make the top five rankings in Class 1A, the team still has a chance to make it to the state finals, as the top three teams from each region will earn a spot on the state bracket.

They are currently ranked No. 4 in their region.

As of Jan. 23, in rankings published by the Deseret News, Bryce Valley (15-2) is ranked No. 1, followed by Rich High (13-2). St. Joseph (11-3) is No. 3, followed by Whitehorse (10-7) and then Milford (13-4).

"It will be a dog fight with Green River, Whitehorse, and Monticello," Seltzer said. "We have to beat them just to get to the state tournament."

Green River, according to Seltzer, "...has three very tall girls and they're hard to deal with. They're all about six feet."

As for Whitehorse, the Lady Cougars beat the Raiders earlier this season, but the team also "has one tall girl that is very difficult to deal with. We lost to Monticello and then beat them - they have two tall girls too.

"These other teams have a huge height advantage over us," Seltzer added. "We're short. We only have one girl that is fairly tall - Cory Valentine."

Aside from the height issue, the girls are playing pretty solid basketball.

"We've played pretty good defense and we've become one of the top scoring teams in the state," Seltzer said. "We've managed to shoot the ball decent, except in three games."

Typically, the Lady Cougars score anywhere from 60 to 65 points per game.

"Most are outside shots," said Seltzer. "Because of our height, we have to hit the outside shot."

Part of the reason the team is scoring so high is because of Holiday, but she is also getting help from juniors Cassidy Augustine, a point guard and wing, and Jandra Nelson, a guard and forward.

"They are the three girls that do most of the scoring," said Seltzer. "Cassidy played some varsity during her freshman year and she brings leadership. She knows the system pretty well and knows what I want to happen.

"Jandra brings some shooting and defensive skills," he said of Nelson, who is averaging 10.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game.

Augustine is the second-leading scorer at 12 points per game. She is averaging 2.7 assists, 2.5 rebounds, and 2.7 steals per game.

"Destinee brings a lot of things to the game," Seltzer said of Holiday. "She brings skills - all kinds of skills. She's a really sound ball player and she's melted in with the rest of the girls very well. If I need a backup point guard, I can move her."

The Lady Cougars are currently 12-4 overall and 6-2 in their region.

Their most recent loss was to the Rock Point Cougars, 73-59, over the weekend. Other losses came at the hands of Green River (66-55), Monticello (64-45), and Dove Creek (68-52) earlier in the season.

The team will play Green River on Friday and Whitehorse on Saturday.

"They're pretty optimistic," Seltzer said. "They know what they need to do and they know how much pressure is on them for the next three games. Our records are all really close - there are only one to two games separating the top four teams in the region."

Despite the pressure, Holiday said the team has built a strong bond that she hopes will carry them far.

"We've gone through so much as a team, having to rebuild, and it's wonderful to see them happy," Holiday said. "When we played our first game, they didn't believe. We've been there for each other and they're more confident now. We've gotten stronger and I know we have a good shot at making it to state and making it far.

"This is where I belonged all along because it's taught me how to be a leader," Holiday added.

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