Strange AIA decision tops sports Top 10
Flipping through our archives, the 2019 sports scene had a ton of stories to consider for my year-end top 10 list.
My list initially grew to 25 different stories but to keep things consistent with what I’ve done in the past I narrowed my list to these top 10 stories.
1. Chinle’s back in!
AIA reverses decision on tourney
The 3A Conference Committee made a request to the AIA Executive Board to reinstate the Chinle girls’ basketball team back into the state tournament.
Through the emergency conference call, the AIA board accepted the 3A Committee’s recommendation as the Lady Wildcats faced Holbrook in the 3A state semifinals on Feb. 22.
Earlier that week, the Tucson Sabino Lady Sabercats beat Chinle 55-43 but on the following day the AIA disqualified Sabino for using an ineligible player.
Coaches had reacted with anger and confusion after the original announcement of Sabino’s disqualification, noting it would have a domino effect throughout the state.
A day after dropping their 12-point decision to top-seeded Sabino, second-year Chinle coach Francine McCurtain was just as confused as everyone else.
“This is very unfortunate,” said McCurtain, who wondered why Sabino made the playoffs despite forfeiting 12 games during the regular season for using an ineligible player.
Before transferring to Sabino High, the player in question had been previously coached by Sabino coach Jaamal Rhodes on a club team, which violated the AIA’s prior-contact bylaws.
“The bracket would have been different if they weren’t (included),” McCurtain said. “It affects all the teams and not just the Chinle team.”
Tuba City coach Kim Williams agreed. Leaving Sabino in the bracket altered how all the teams were ranked in the final standings.
“You know Page should have been the No. 1,” said Williams, whose team lost to the Lady Sand Devils in the Elite Eight round by a 43-42 count. “I’m kind of disappointed with the decisions that the AIA has made but I’m not in control of that.”
Had Sabino’s team been left out of the state bracket, Williams’ team would have earned the No. 6 seed instead of the No. 7 seed. If that were the case, they would have possibly met Page in the state finals if both teams advanced that far in the bracket.
2. Arizona state track
Repeat champions seemed to be the underlying theme at this past spring’s Arizona state track meet.
St. Michael runner Ali Upshaw, Page’s Bowen Martin and the Sand Devils 4×800 relay team defended their respective state titles.
In the latter, the Sand Devils won their race by a fraction of a second as Martin took one last lunge to edge Snowflake for the title.
Page, which consists of Trent Holiday, Morgan Fowler, Kaipo Uejo and Martin, won the race in 8:14.08 while Snowflake clocked in at 8:14.60.
“You always have to have confidence in your kids but I definitely didn’t expect the race to be that close,” Page coach Reggie Edwards said. “We knew Snowflake ran their seeded time at altitude so we figured man-for-man we could handle them. We didn’t expect their anchor leg to run like that.”
In the individual races, Martin captured his second consecutive gold medal in the 1,600-meter run with a winning time of 4:24.24.
Upshaw, meanwhile, captured the Triple Crown, winning gold in the 800-, 1,600- and 3,200-meter races.
In the latter race, Upshaw defended her state title with ease, winning the 3,200-meter run in 10:41.57 with then Piñon senior Precious Robinson trailing 19 seconds back.
In the mile race, she posted a time of 5:06.96 as she held off a late charge by Robinson, who turned in a 5:08.66.
St. Michael coach Kelly Bia said her daughter put a stamp on every race she took part of but her defining moment came in the 800.
“The 800 is a different race because it’s so quick and fast,” Bia said. “She’s not a speedster and that’s the race she’s most uncomfortable with.”
In her previous state meets, Bia said Upshaw placed sixth and seventh in the 800, and in retrospect she presumed that same scenario was going to play out after the first lap.
“In the back of my mind I was thinking here we go again,” Bia said. “But she stuck with it and with 300 meters to go she switched gears and she never looked back.
“I think this race tested her mentally and for her to come through I hope it shows her that she is getting stronger,” she added.
3. Fowler wins Waste Management Phoenix Open
Diné professional golfer Rickie Fowler overcame a triple bogey on 11 at the TPC Scottsdale to finish at 17-under 267 and beat Branden Grace by two shots for his fifth PGA Tour title.
“Yeah, this one is a little more special,” said Fowler to the Cronkite News. “It’s not just the normal event. I love the atmosphere here, I love the fans. They have always been great to me. The Thunderbirds have been nothing short of amazing to me, giving me a spot here when I was an (amateur) at Oklahoma State.”
4. McBride recognized for pushing girls’ wrestling
The inaugural Arizona Division I girls state wrestling tournament was very competitive with a number of matches going the distance.
There were 10 state champions crowned in the February event as all the state qualifiers competed in one division.
In previous years, the female state qualifiers had to compete with their male counterparts, but thanks to some dedicated individuals the girls had their own tournament this year.
One of those individuals recognized was Monument Valley coach Clyde McBride as he received an award from USA Wrestling for his leadership in advancing girls’ wrestling and helping establish the first girls’ high school state wrestling tournament in Arizona.
“I have been pushing this for a long time with (former MV athletic director) Cindy Nash,” McBride said. “We’ve been pushing this for 15, 20 years.”
And each time they proposed this to the Arizona Interscholastic Association, McBride said, they were told no.
“We would bring it back up the following year and we were told no,” he said. “It took a while to get them their own state tournament but it’s an honor to see it come to life.”
5. State wrestling
Tanner Tsinigine, a junior, brought home to Monument Valley High a state wrestling championship in the 152-pound division from the Utah 1A state-wrestling tournament held Feb. 8-9 in Richfield.
Tsinigine also was named most valuable wrestler of the tournament by participating coaches.
Tsinigine defeated Zac Cecil of Monticello in the championship match by a score of 4-3. It was the third time this year the two had wrestled with each winning one match entering the championship bout.
Tsinigine finished the year with a 40-6 overall record.
“Winning state in wrestling to me is a big accomplishment,” Tsinigine said. “It shows I can hang with the better schools and it shows me, a Navajo, that my hard work in the off-season and during the season paid off.
“It shows I’m dedicated, driven and motivated to do whatever it takes to win,” he said. “Winning state shows I had the biggest heart.”
“We haven’t had a state champion here in a long time,” said proud assistant wrestling coach Cal Lameman. “We came close to having four wrestlers finish in the top four.”
With the impending closure of the Navajo Generating Station, the Page Sand Devils left their imprints at this year’s Arizona Division IV state wrestling tournament with three state champions in early February.
Then sophomore Zachery Ruiz got things started by posting an OT victory in the 113-pound bracket. In similar fashion, then junior Kimball Begay needed an extra session to outlast his opponent in the 195 finals. Then senior Cheyenne Richardson capped a blissful day for Page as he captured gold in the heavyweight division.
“It’s a great day for Page High School,” Sand Devil coach Kyran Keisling said. “I coached a long time for a day like this. They don’t happen very often to where everything just comes together.
“The kids wrestled with heart and they wrestled to the end,” he said. “They beat kids with tenacity and determination so this is the most satisfying feeling a coach can feel.”
6. Page takes 3A championship, Alchesay wins 2A crown
The senior class at Page High went out with a bang as Amy Yellowman, Mikala Benally, Myka Taliman and Meagan Fuller ended their prep career with another state championship.
That class won a total of 102 games the past four seasons, playing in their third consecutive state title game.
“Winning two state titles is an emotional feeling,” said Benally.
Yellowman chimed in that it takes a special player to be part of this team.
“There is a target on our backs, but to accomplish what we did took a lot of hard work,” she said. “We put in a lot of hard work in practice every day and it showed on the court.”
In their title defense, the dynastic Lady Sand Devils kept things simple.
Page once again used its tenacious defense to pull out a 46-33 win over Holbrook in the Arizona 3A girls’ state championship game, which was held at the Gila River Arena in Glendale on Saturday.
“This means so much for the girls, especially in our school and our community,” Page coach Ryan Whitehorse said. “This kind of defines what our program was built off of, which is playing defense.”
As the tournament’s No. 6 seed, not much was expected from the Alchesay girls’ basketball team.
Nonetheless, the Lady Falcons proved everyone wrong as they beat No. 4 seed Scottsdale Christian Academy with a 40-36 triumph.
“The feeling is incredible,” Alchesay coach Rick Sanchez said. “We weren’t picked to win anything but the girls worked hard all year. I kind of pointed them in the right direction and they just ran with it to get this win.”
Alchesay’s victory ended a 23-year state title drought for the Falcons as the 1996 team had finally won one after two unsuccessful tries.
7. Five of 17 INFR world champions are Diné
The Indian National Finals Rodeo crowned 17 world champions with the Diné contingent attaining a fair share of those laurels.
Of the five champions from the Navajo land, heeler Myles John successfully defended his world crown by winning the team roping aggregate with four-time INFR winner Edward Hawley, who captured his third title.
They finished the four-round aggregate in 23.90 seconds and beat out the team of Monte Dan and Willie Nez as the latter pair finished with a 25.20 aggregate.
“It was pretty tough,” John said of winning his title. “I had a tough year and I had a lot of ups and downs. Nonetheless, we stuck through it and we worked our butts off to be in the situation that we were in tonight.”
Not only did he win a world title, his horse was involved with another one as Jareth Hale captured gold in the ladies breakaway event.
Hale kept herself in contention by roping smart during the weeklong rodeo. The Ganado cowgirl won her world title by a fraction of a second as she roped four draws in 12.21 seconds with reserve champion Jacquelyn Peterson finishing a close second with a 12.27 aggregate.
“This is an amazing feeling and this actually happened,” she said. “This isn’t my strongest event but if I want to do something I set my mind to do it.”
Flagstaff bull rider Wyatt Nez, who captured the hearts of many, won his first world title in impressive fashion as he was the only rider to go a perfect 4-for-4.
Nez mesmerized the large capacity crowd by ending the rodeo with a whopping 89-point ride in Saturday’s championship round. That ride gave him an aggregate of 327 points.
“It really means a lot to me that everyone came out to support me,” Nez said. “As much I love this sport I couldn’t let this get to my head. I still had to take it one jump at a time.”
In the junior/senior events Gallup cowboy Chance Thomas won two of three rounds to claim the junior bull riding championship with an aggregate of 229 points while Darryl Boyd of Vanderwagen, New Mexico, earned the senior team roping title with with heeling partner Alfred Armajo Jr. The two veterans roped three draws in 29.86 seconds.
8. Arizona state cross-country meet
The individual and team titles at the Arizona Division IV girls’ cross-country state championship were never much in doubt for St. Michael senior Ali Upshaw and her teammates.
Upshaw turned in a dominating performance in the 5K-race at the Cave Creek Golf Course in north Phoenix. She posted a blistering time of 17 minutes, 49.5 seconds as she defended her state title.
“With it being my senior year I wanted to get into the 17s,” Upshaw said. “I think a lot of that was me pushing myself up in the front.”
As a team, the Lady Cardinals had their five scoring members place in the top 22 as they repeated as champions with a team score of 37 points.
“They went out there and did what we asked them to do,” St. Michael coach Kelly Bia said of her team. “They clinched it so it was a really good day for us.”
In the Division III boys state meet, the Page Sand Devils stretched their state title streak to seven despite being surrounded by youth.
The Sand Devils were considered by many as an afterthought entering the state meet after losing four members from last year’s state championship team.
“We were definitely underrated coming in,” Page coach Theo Martin said. “Everybody kind of forgot about us but I knew what we could do.”
Led by their three standouts – Trent Holiday, Rex Martin and Skylar Sandoval – the Sand Devils captured the program’s 17th state title at Cave Creek Golf Course in north Phoenix.
Page finished the team standings with 62 points with Prescott (140) and Monument Valley (154) a distant second and third.
“It feels good knowing that we won this again after we lost so many guys last year,” said Holiday, who placed third overall with a time of 16:13.2. “I felt that this was my year and my teammates year and all we wanted was a state championship.”
9. Diné mountain biker gets the lead out in high-altitude race
Ten years ago, Randy John never imagined he would be competing in one of the world’s most challenging bicycle races. He was barely dragging his 305-pound frame around.
But there he was on Aug. 10, one of only two Navajos in a field of 1,638 riders in the Leadville Trail 100 MTB, a 103-mile mountain bike race that reaches elevations of 12,440 feet. And he was 176 pounds of solid muscle.
Entry in the Leadville 100, which started in 1983 with a paltry 45 riders, boomed after a documentary about the race came out. John’s application was one of more than 60,000 to be placed in the annual lottery for the race, which limits participation to 1,650. The only way to circumvent the lottery is to have competed in the race before, or in the Tour de France.
John got the official rejection letter, and immediately put his application in for the following year. He did the same thing the year after that, and the one after that. All the while he was training, competing, buying better gear, and becoming a more polished cyclist.
Finally, this year — nine years after his first try at the Leadville 100 lottery — he got in. John could hardly believe his eyes as he read the letter.
“I was like a kid being told he could go to Disneyland,” John recalled.
John finished 892nd out of 1,632 riders with a time of 10:52:44.
10. Patriots head coach accused of stealing from locker
Gallup-McKinley County Schools fired former Miyamura football coach John Roanhaus after a police report was filed in Magistrate Court on one count of non-residential burglary, a fourth-degree felony, and one count of larceny of $250 or less, a petty misdemeanor.
The complaint came about in early October when police were called to Miyamura High School.
According to the police report, Officer Nathaniel Renteria met with the mother of one of the football players. Renteria was shown video from a cellphone camera, which allegedly showed Roanhaus enter the locker room, go into the locker of one of the football players, take out a wallet, and remove two $20 bills. He then reportedly placed the bills in his sock and left the locker room.
The report said this was not the first time money had disappeared from the locker room, which led the players to set up the camera to see who had been responsible.