No. 3 seed Navajo Pine fulfills destiny, win second state title

By Sunnie Clahchischiligi
Special to the Times

ALBUQUERQUE, March 21, 2013

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(Times photo – Donovan Quintero)

TOP: The Navajo Pine Lady Warriors celebrate while hold their New Mexico Class 2A girl's state basketball championship trophy and banner after defeating the Laguna Acoma Lady Hawks Friday at the Pit in Albuquerque.

SECOND FROM TOP: Demetria Clichee of Navajo Pine gets ready to shoot the ball against Aubree Carr of Laguna-Acoma on Mar. 15 in Albuquerque.

W hile most teams spent the last four months trying to figure out where they would be at the end of the season, the No. 3 seeded Navajo Pine Lady Warriors knew they wanted another state championship title.

That highly ambitious goal was no secret, which made their championship title win over No. 1 Laguna Acoma even more sweet.

"Winning the state title was our main goal ever since our first practice," Navajo Pine senior Kaitlin Chee said. "We wanted to come here so bad to win it and to try give it our all, and here we are, we won."

The Lady Warriors defeated Laguna Acoma, 64-57, and earned the school's second girl's basketball state title at the University of New Mexico's the Pit on March 15.

The Lady Warriors first defeated No. 14 Santa Fe Prep at home, 53-27. In the quarterfinals at Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho, N.M., they defeated No. 6 Zuni 80-55 for a chance to meet No. 2 Texico in a rematch of last year's finals.

In a nail-biting finish, the Warriors advanced with a 51-49 victory.

Navajo Pine head coach Aretha Mariano said she never doubted her team even when they loss a 15-point game to Laguna Acoma early in the season.

"We always knew these girls were better than Laguna," Mariano said. "That first time that we played them we weren't ready.

In the championship game Laguna Acoma had a running start and outscored Navajo Pine, 12-8, in the first quarter.

With four three-pointers in the second quarter Navajo Pine made a 12-point run only to have Laguna answer back with an 11-point run. At the half, the Hawks held a 31-27 lead.

Laguna Acoma head coach Randy Hunt said his team was ready to play but so was Navajo Pine. He said his team played every card they had but Navajo Pine was simply better and rattled his team.

"Navajo Pine just answered every punch that we threw that them, if I could do it all over, maybe we'd cover the corners, that three-point shot a little better," he said. "Our press was always effective all year long and it just wasn't effective today."

"They're just good, there's no excuses," he added. "We got beat by a better team today."

The Lady Hawks, who finished their season at 27-4 and 8-0 in district, will lose Randi Romero, Adrianna Nelson, Raquel Aguino and Aubree Carr as the four seniors will graduate in the spring.

With a sense of urgency, Navajo Pine came out of the second half more determined as they attacked the basket and lit the three-point line with four more treys. They finished the game with nine three-pointers, three more than Laguna.

Behind three treys the Lady Warriors started to pull away in midway through the third before they built a 13-point lead in the fourth.

Navajo Pine senior Demetria Clichee, who led the team with 23 points, said it was important for her and her fellow seniors to give all they could in the second half of the game.

"As seniors this is our last year so no matter what the score was we had to leave whatever we have on the court so we just left it out there," Clichee said adding that she and her team looked back on their first game against Laguna Acoma and they realized they were a better team.

She said a large part of that was due to her brother, Dominic Clichee, a former Navajo Pine basketball standout, and his girlfriend Justina George, who is a two-time state champion for Ramah High. The two came and volunteered as assistant coaches just before the New Year.

"Working with my older brother he gave us confidence that we were better than the No. 1 team," Clichee said. "He just helped us, pushed us every practice, and I'm sure we've improved a lot over the past season."

The current crop of seniors and juniors were a part of the 2011 team when the Navajo Pine girl's basketball team won the school's first state championship title.

The Lady Warriors finished their season 27-4 and 14-0 in district.

The team will lose six seniors this year iincluding Clichee, Chee, Krishia Artieda, Shavonna Begay, Amanda Curley and Charmayne Henry.

"It means everything," Clichee said of the win. "There wasn't one game where we backed down, we just gave it our all knowing it was our last year. We had little freshman that looked up to us, teaching them what it was like coming into the Pit it really meant a lot to them and to us as seniors."

Mariano said she will miss the seniors but won't forget the work ethic and drive they carried the four years they were on the team.

She said this season's team is one that will be hard to match as they made the dream of many community members come true and only hope the younger generations will carry it on.

"They never give up, they're determined, they set a plan up for themselves they do it… these girls never missed a practice, and that's just that mentality that they have…it's just something you're going to be blessed with once in a great while," Mariano said. "I hope these younger ones see it and we can come back again."

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