Tohatchi grad finds Highlands too good to pass up
Signing with New Mexico Highlands came as a huge surprise for Tohatchi graduate Montana Soto.
She hadn’t plan on playing basketball beyond high school but the opportunity to join the Cowgirls women’s program was too much to pass up.
“I’m really excited and a lot of people are excited for me as well,” Soto said on Monday. “It came out of nowhere so this was a surprise for me. I was originally supposed to just go to school. I was just gonna focus on school but I thought about it and I decided to take on this opportunity.”
Her dad, Roger Soto, shared that same enthusiasm, as the family was present for her signing on Monday at Tohatchi High School.
“I’m glad that she got this offer,” he said. “This is very upbeat because I know that she loves to play ball.”
Montana had planned on enrolling at the University of New Mexico this term but the coaches at NMHU were persistent in recruiting the Tohatchi post player.
In fact, they reached out to head coach Tanisha Bitsoi several times and after consulting with her high school coach Montana agreed to play for them.
“I decided to go there because they have a really good basketball program,” she said. “I like the coaching staff and I really like the school. They were very welcoming when I went for my visit. I’m just in awe with them wanting me to play for them.”
The Tohatchi graduate was also sold on the quality education she’s going to receive.
“I was actually looking to go to a four-year college,” she said. “With Highlands being a four-year school it kind of persuaded me go through with that. They also have my major, which is biology.”
In high school, Montana played for Tohatchi for two seasons and before that she lived in the Valley for a number of years.
While there she followed in her older siblings footsteps and started playing basketball at the age of five while the family was living in Tempe.
And while she dabbled in softball, Roger said her love for basketball was undeniable.
“One year led to another,” he said. “She just loves the game and I don’t mind her playing, just as long as she practices hard and keeps her grades up.”
With a strong desire to play, Montana played on two traveling teams – Arizona Elite and Arizona Select – to help improve her skills. When she reached high school, she opted to play for Gilbert High School.
“She went there because they were more oriented towards basketball even though she didn’t know anybody there,” he said. “She played for them for two years and she saw a lot good competition at the school.
“It was tough but she didn’t quit at all,” he added. “She stayed there and she toughed it out.”
With his wife, Jeannie King, originally from Iyanbito, Roger said the family decided to move back to the reservation so that Montana can get reacquainted with her roots and tradition.
“We made the decision to move back here for her junior and senior year,” Roger said. “She has two older sisters that played for Gallup High but she chose to go to Tohatchi.”
While there, Montana helped the Lady Cougars to a state runner-up finish her junior season and this past spring they got as far as the Final Four round.
“When I came back I really didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “I just came in, you know, as the new girl that knew how to play. All I wanted to do was play basketball.
“It was great that we went to state my junior and senior year,” she added. “I was super excited about that and my whole family was excited about that too. I feel very fortunate and grateful for what we accomplished as a team. I know that we surprised a lot of people.”
Montano credited her high school coach for helping her grow as a player and a person.
“She helped me evolved,” Montana said of Bitsoi. “She’s a really good coach and she was always on me about pushing myself to get better and better. She disciplined me to be a leader as well and that’s giving me confidence to play at the college level. I’m going to do my best and help the best way I can with my new team.”