Basketball canceled: Rock Point girls see chance for repeat end
With the Arizona prep basketball season set to start in two weeks there will be a handful of state qualifiers that will be missing this year.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic some local school districts have opted out of having a season as the Arizona Interscholastic Association has approved the start of the delayed winter sports season on Jan. 18.
Of course, that’s dependent on the trajectory of the pandemic, as Arizona is reporting the highest seven-day average of COVID-19 infections per capita. On Monday, the state was reporting 121.8 cases per 100,000 people.
Of the reservation schools only St. Michael will field a team this year along with neighboring schools Flagstaff, Holbrook, Page and Winslow.
All of the other teams will have to sit idle including the Rock Point girls basketball team, the defending 1A state champs.
With a team that was built to run the tables, the Lady Cougars were hoping to repeat this year with all but three players returning from last year’s squad.
“We wanted another shot at the state title,” said Rock Point head coach Andrew Reed, who added that the pandemic has had a major impact on his team.
“I’ve been talking to my girls and we’re dealing with a lot of emotions,” he said. “A lot of it is anxiety.”
It’s not only the players, Reed confessed.
“Some of the parents keep calling me too,” he said.
Rock Point athletic director Chris Wilson said the school board canceled the winter sports season on Dec. 3 as the RPCS administrators took into consideration the high rate of COVID-19 cases both nationally and statewide.
“I really feel for these seniors because this was their year to shine,” Wilson said. “The pandemic got it stolen from them.”
Nonetheless, Wilson said the school board was looking out for the safety of the students, teachers and employees of Rock Point Community School.
“It’s all for the best and it had to be done,” he said. “We had to shut down the season because this COVID situation never improved. We were hoping that the numbers would go down but unfortunately the numbers went higher. We had to protect the student-athletes, coaches, drivers and our fan base.”
Last February, the school earned its first-ever state crown by outlasting Baboquivari, 69-61, in an exciting finish before a large crowd in Prescott Valley.
“It was amazing,” Rock Point senior Rylisha Begay said of winning the state title. “I really can’t explain the feeling but every time I think about it I get real emotional about it.”
With the fall season being canceled, the three-sport athlete said she was hopeful that the basketball season would be salvaged.
“This is sad because it’s my last year and I wanted to make the best of it,” she said. “My teammates are like sisters to me and what I’m going to miss is not playing with them. We all wanted to make more memories.”
Lady Cougar point guard Tierra John is also saddened about not having a season.
“It’s just sad to know that we’re not given another chance to try and bring back the gold ball again,” she said. “We were all looking forward to it. We all wanted to get back together one more time for our senior season.”
Besides the two seniors, Reed said he had a few impact players coming back as Rock Point had both size and speed.
“We were going to be fully loaded,” Reed said. “These girls are very coachable and they worked as a team. They had set a goal last year and they went after it. They figured out how to win a state championship.”
With the girls team winning the state title and the boys team reaching the Final Four during last year’s state playoff run, Wilson said both squads had an outstanding year.
“We’re so proud of them,” he said. “And with the girls winning state it was a special moment. We came close a few times and last year our girls did it.”
Wilson said the pandemic has made it hard for all the school districts on the reservation to assess their next move as the 1A, 2A and 3A schools formed the Northeastern Arizona Region last fall in hopes of playing sports this year.
“Our goal was to have our student-athletes participate in athletics for the school year aside from the regular AIA schedule just because of the situation on the Navajo Reservation,” he said.
Since the formation of the Northeastern Region, Wilson said the ADs had been collaborating on what steps they need to take for their athletes to play but with some schools canceling winter sports that idea is off the table.
“We’re shut down and some schools have opted out,” he said.
As for the spring sports, Wilson said that season is in limbo as well but he remains hopeful that they can provide the Rock Point athletes a chance to play baseball, softball and track.
“We’ll have to wait and see what the conditions are here on the Navajo Nation,” he said. “That’s where we’re at right now. It’s just an unpredictable timetable we’re on.”