FARMINGTON — A season removed from the school's first trip to the state tournament, the Shiprock Northwest girls basketball team is off to a flying start.
The Lady Falcons opened the year with nine wins in 11 games and finished the New Mexico American Indian Classic in second place of the small-schools bracket for the second-straight season, dropping the title game to Class 1A No. 6 Jemez Valley 84-48 on Saturday.
Shiprock Northwest head coach Leon Wheeler said the 2013 state tournament appearance built momentum within the program and has carried over to the start of this season.
"We've grown a lot as a team. Before we'd have about six or seven players, and we'd tire out playing bigger schools who had 14 or 15 players," Wheeler said. "We're up to 12 players now, and there's a lot of young energy on the team."
The Lady Falcons, who have just two seniors on the roster, have progressed as a unit during the season.
Wheeler said everyone within the team is playing a role in the success.
"They all lead together, so we're not looking to one person to rely on," he said.
Shiprock Northwest will have to win District 1-6A in order to make the state tournament again and expects stiff competition from Tse' Yi' Gai for the title.
"Our biggest contest will be with Tse' Yi' Gai," Wheeler said. "They have a lot of good players, and it's always a battle between the teams."
The third-year coach is hoping his team will take the lessons learned from the tough loss to Jemez Valley and use them going forward when the district season begins.
"It's a learning experience. As we get closer to the tournament, that's the caliber of team we'll need to be ready for," Wheeler said.
Before district play begins, the Lady Falcons have a matchup with 2A Dulce that Wheeler expects to be a good test for his squad.
"We have Dulce coming up and they're a team we're looking forward to playing," he said.