Arizona girls Division III roundup
Local teams gear up for tough competition
By Alastair Lee Bitsoi
WINDOW ROCK, November 29, 2012
A ccording to the Arizona Republic's Preseason 2012-2013 girls' basketball rankings, six area teams from Division III Section I, which mostly consists of former 2A and 3A North schools, are ranked in the top 10.
Those schools include preseason No. 2 Winslow Bulldogs, No. 3 Tuba City Warriors, No. 4 Valley Pirates, No. 6 Window Rock Scouts and No. 8 Holbrook Road Runners.
Division III's No. 1 team is Chandler Valley Christian, led by senior Tana Kemmer's 134 3-point field goals, third most in the nation, according to the Arizona Republic.
The Lady Bulldogs are younger than last year's Division III state runner-up team (24-6), but has the experience with six returning players, including four starters.
"We are somewhat of a veteran team and actually very young," said Winslow head coach Jerron Jordan. "We have a talented starting five that is stronger than last year."
Winslow returns four-time varsity letterman and leading scorer Mattea Begaii, who averaged 12.9 points per game last year, as well as junior pointguard Marcella Joe, junior forward Halle Hayes, sophomore center Shundiin Armao and Laylane Benslow.
"We are still building up our reserves," Jordan added. "They played a lot of basketball this summer. They're progressing and getting better each week.
Key reserves that should help Winslow's starting five include Tannon Tom, as well as the slew of sophomore guards and forwards.
"Tannon is our sixth girl," Jordan said. "She will get more playing time this year."
As of today, Winslow already has an overall 2-0 record with victories over Ganado and Hopi.
Against the Lady Hornets on Nov. 20, the Lady Bulldogs came out on top with a 28-point victory, 58-30. On Tuesday, the Lady Bulldogs defeated the Hopi. Winslow and Hopi meet again on Dec. 4 at Winslow.
One of Winslow's first tests of the season comes next week during the John Lomasney Gallup Invitational. The Lady Bulldogs match up with 4A Albuquerque St. Pius X in the first round on Dec. 6 and will face either Clovis or Kirtland Central in the second round on Dec. 7.
"Our first big test is St. Pius," Jordan said. "They got some size. It will be a good test of us. Win or lose, we are going to get Clovis or Kirtland. There's 8 tough, solid teams in the Gallup tournament."
Following the Gallup tournament, the Lady Bulldogs will be in action against Division III Section 1 foes Blue Ridge on Dec. 11 and host defending Division III champion Page on Dec. 18.
Jordan said even though his team is ranked as the preseason No. 2 in Division III, league play in Section I will be strong from top to bottom with Page still the team to beat.
"We're one of the favorites but I still think Page is the team to beat," he said. "Valley Sanders is a very good team. They were a good team last year and ran into Tuba City last year."
He also said Many Farms and Monument Valley would be tough teams in Section 1 play, despite not being ranked in the Arizona Republic's preseason rankings.
"Up here you have to play hard every night," Jordan said. "Valley Christian is a good ball club, but they won't see the tough section play like here. It's night end, night out. There's no night off."
From playing in a tough section, if not the toughest across all of Arizona's divisions, Jordan said, his team should be battled tested come state tournament time. The goal, he said, is to return to the Division III title game.
"The goal is to win state," he said. "We were so close. If we play we have a good chance of getting back to the finals and potentially win it. We're going to work hard every day. We got the potential to do it if we play. I'm very excited."
The Page Lady Sand Devils, defending Division III state champions, lost six players to graduation last year but that doesn't stop head coach Justin Smith from believing his team can do it again.
"We'll be young," he said. "Other than that we are going to do what we always do – play defense and hope for the best."
Smith said there are no particular players that stand out, and the Lady Sand Devils would operate, like it did last year, by committee.
One player Smith is excited about is the return of six-foot center Jessica Anderson, who injured her ACL prior to the beginning of the state championship season.
"I don't think were relying on one girl," Smith said. "It's going to be scoring by committee like last year. We got Jess back. She's going to be a force for us in the middle."
Along with Anderson, the Lady Sand Devils will also consist of Nicole Douglas, Tiara Collins, and Ember Sloan, among other players.
"We are pretty balanced. That's how our teams usually are," Smith quipped. "It's hard for our opponents to chose who they want to stop. It's going to be hard to stop five to seven girls from scoring."
As for being ranked preseason No. 3, Smith said rankings don't matter.
"I don't think much about those rankings," he said. "They'll always be there. They're wrong every year. I don't think we've been ranked No. 1 or No. 2 going into the season. I don't know if we're the No. 3 team in the state or not."
Nonetheless, it's always where the Lady Sand Devils finish in the postseason that really counts, Smith said.
"It's always our goal," Smith said about winning state. "That's what's expected here. I wouldn't be coaching at Page High if I wasn't confident in our girls and coaching staff."
This weekend the Lady Sand Devils host their annual Navajo Generating Station Classic.
The tournament field includes Arizona Division I and preseason ranked No. 1 Phoenix St. Mary's, Dixie from St. George, Utah, Virgin Valley from Nevada and Monument Valley, among other entrants.
Last season, St. Mary's was nationally ranked as the No. 1 team in the nation and is currently ranked No. 4 in the nation by MaxPreps' Xcellent 25.
"It's the best tournament field we have had, maybe ever," Smith said about the NGS Classic. "I don't know if we ever hosted the No. 1 team in the nation. It should be good, should be fun."
Regarding league play, Smith said he expects a challenge from area teams, including Winslow.
"Our section is the best in the state regardless of classification," he said. "Winslow is going to be tough even though they lost some good seniors. I'm reading Valley Sanders is pretty good. Tuba City is always tough. MV, I think, is going to be tough this year. Many Farms beat them, so Many Farms will be tough."
Even though Smith lost six seniors to graduation, he doesn't think he is rebuilding.
"Every year people say, 'You lost a lot of girls,' but every year girls step up," he said. "We are never rebuilding. We are always playing to win. I'll tell you in February if it works or not."
After reaching the Final Four the last two years with James Roe, the Tuba City Lady Warriors welcome new head coach Kim Williams to the program.
"She was my assistant two years ago," said Roe, who retains the position of athletic director. "She will do a great job for us. We have a pretty good team this year. It should be exciting."
In an interview Tuesday with the Times, Williams said Tuba City returns forward Shinaya Henry and will use two other seniors, three juniors and six sophomores, including Ashley Lomavaya, to fill out her roster.
"It's a whole new team," Williams said, adding that varsity letterman Kristen Becenti, who was pivotal during last's Final Four run, isn't going to suit up this year and instead focus on securing a college volleyball scholarship.
"She's not playing this year," Williams said of Becenti. "She's elected to try for more opportunities for volleyball.
Both Becenti and Henry helped Tuba City capture its first ever-state volleyball championship last month over Safford during the Arizona Division III state volleyball tournament in Prescott Valley, Ariz., on Nov. 3.
"Henry used to come off the bench until almost the last five games of the season and at the state tournament," Williams said.
As for Lomavaya, she provides leadership at the point guard spot, she added.
Unlike the previous years, Williams said the Lady Warriors would have a balance attack of scorers and defenders.
"This year it's all of them," she said. "The good thing is that I don't have a superstar."
As the new leader of the girls' basketball program, which is steep in tradition of championships, Williams said her first goal is to find a rotation.
"Our goal is to find out who plays well with each other and who can come off the bench," she said. "They're learning a lot about their roles and responsibilities and I'm making sure their effort doesn't drop substituting in and out. That level needs to stay the same or better."
She also expects to at least reach the Elite 8 round this year.
"For this team, our goal is to make the Elite 8," she said. "Winslow and Window Rock will be very strong. Winslow has most of everybody back. This is our year of growing."
As of press time on Wednesday, scores were unavailable to report how the Lady Warriors fared against Grand Canyon last night.
The Valley Lady Pirates are off to a quick start with an early 3-0 record. The Lady Pirates have beaten their opponents – Rough Rock, Round Valley and Ganado - by an average of 40 points. Much of their early success is based on the number of returning players – 8 total - including four starters from last year's 28-4 team and improved communication.
"This year I have a shorter but quicker team," said Valley head coach Julia Six. "Half of the time we play man defense. There's a lot of communication going on among the girls and that's a difference this year."
Senior point guard Chelena Betoney, senior swing guard Adriana Nez, senior guard Rolanda Mitchell, sophomore power forward Kristan Quigley and post players Edelena Lopez and Bettina Swatts will lead Valley.
"We're off to a good start and hope to continue on winning streak," Six said. "I am confident in the girls to do well."
Valley's next game is next week on Dec. 4 against St. John's.