FARMINGTON — A Shiprock team loaded with experienced seniors and talented underclassmen is ready to make a run at the 3A state championship in 2014.
The Lady Chieftains return four captains -- Shania Harry, Ashley John, Taylor Henderson and Arantxa Curley -- from the 2012-13 team that reached the 3A state semifinals. An influx of skilled underclassmen will mix in with the seniors to form a team second-year head coach Larenson Henderson believes can win it all this season.
"I am really excited. We are reloaded," Larenson Henderson said. "Our expectations are to win it all. We are practicing like it every day. The tempo is high, and we are really strong and becoming more positive. The girls are working hard to get there."
Along with the four returning captains, Shiprock also has senior center Courtney Steele, who was a dominant force during the District 1-3A season and state playoffs a year ago.
Young players such as sophomore guard Lacey Howe also have Larenson Henderson excited about his team's ability to go deep in the playoffs this season and many more years to come.
"I have got a lot of talented freshman, sophomores and juniors this year. They are going to get a lot of experience this year, which will be big before our current seniors graduate," Larenson Henderson said.
The focus for Shiprock in practices and the early-season games is team chemistry. With so many underclassmen mixing with seniors, Larenson Henderson wants to see the team come together.
"Teamwork will be our biggest thing, especially this year when we should have a lot of speed," Larenson Henderson said. "We will be a lot smarter and aggressive with the ball. We are a more athletic team this year, and I think mixing some veterans in with the younger bunch will get the team sparking one another. It will make playing fun for them."
Larenson Henderson expects his team to win District 1-3A again this season, and he said Hope Christian and Lovington will once again be the toughest teams to play come state tournament time.
Shiprock's first game is Nov. 23 against Gallup. The Lady Chiefs will host a scrimmage Friday night with Bloomfield, Navajo Prep and Piedra Vista.
"That will be a good chance for us to get a look at our younger players to see what they have in games. We still have some girls out at state volleyball, so that scrimmage is a good chance for the young girls to get out there," Larenson Henderson said. "They have surprised me in practice so far, and I think we are building a foundation for years to come. If we can get the girls to be positive and have a good attitude, we will be very successful the next few years."
Coach: Kevin Holman, fourth season
Last year's finish: 12-16 overall, District 1-4A champions, lost in first round of state tournament
Key returners: Keeshawna Ockerman, Temerae Blackwater, Taylor Miller, Orquidea Reyes, Shamika Benally and Tamara Benally
New additions: Crystal Sheka, Megan Silversmith and Diondra Smith
Season outlook: "We expect to be right in the thick of it for district and state. Until someone knocks us off, we are still the district champs, and the girls believe that. They are Lady Broncos, and they expect to win. Orquidea Reyes and Shamika Benally both started as freshman and gained a lot of confidence. Those two and Keeshawna Ockerman are definitely going to have to lead us in the early going. We hope the younger girls come along as we get closer to district. Tamara Benally has a knee injury, and we aren't sure when or if we will get her back. We aren't sure what to expect in district because there are all new coaches. Piedra Vista has been our district title opponent every year since I have been here, and I know they are good coming back with Joe Reed as their coach. Kaleigh Graham is a force inside, and PV has a lot coming back with her. The other teams could be dangerous, but it is another year at Kirtland Central High School, and we expect everything to run through Bronco Arena." -- Kevin Holman
Coach: Joe Reed, first season
Last year's finish: 14-15 overall, District 1-4A runner-up, lost in first round of state tournament
Key returners: Kaleigh Graham, Claudia Charles, Jacklyn Smith and Ralesha Harrison
New additions: Payton Kee and Nykki Benally
Season outlook: "We actually have pretty big goals this year. We are a veteran team with seven seniors, and we only lost two girls off of last year's team. We also have a transfer from Colorado, Payton Kee, who had a great summer. We are looking good, and we have high expectations. Having Kaleigh Graham obviously helps a lot. We are going to face a lot of zone defenses this year because of her size inside, but we now have seven or eight girls who can knock down 3-point shots. Having those shooters will definitely help us a lot. Obviously, this is Kirtland Central's district. They go in as the favorites since nobody has beat them yet. We are looking forward to that challenge of playing that always well-coached team." -- Joe Reed
Coach: Danny Secrest, first season
Last year's finish: 3-20 overall, last place District 1-4A
Key returners: Shayna Carlowe, Meeya Yazzie and Tanisha Beetso
Season outlook: "The girls are committed to what we are doing. We have a whole new coaching staff, and all the girls are gung-ho about learning from us. We just want the girls to get better and improve every game and compete every game. I think we will try to play up-tempo, but we will play around whoever is on the floor for us. We have one freshman we are excited about, but we are going to try to keep her under wraps for now. We are digging deep to see what we have." -- Danny Secrest
Coach: Robert McCaskill, first season
Last year's finish: 13-15 overall, third place in District 1-4A
Key returners: Jessica Kresl, Kassia Barber, Morgan Smith and Mikayla Paxton
Season outlook: "The girls are learning. Our goal this year is very simple, to improve every day. We haven't sorted out the whole line up yet, and we are still in the process of seeing what we have, and we will know more once we get the volleyball girls back. We have very fast and athletic girls, and I am pretty impressed with what they have shown. We are going to play a lot of man-to-man because we have the athletes to guard anyone. We don't have a big girl, yet. We have a lo of young, tall girls, but they aren't quite ready for varsity yet. This district is passionate about basketball. Kirtland has the history and PV is trying to jump on and we are trying to be involved in that." -- Robert McCaskill
Coach: Tom Adair, first season
Last year's finish: 6-17 overall, last place in District 1-3A
Key returners: Jasmine Sappington, Louisa Maestas, Gabby Munoz and Tashai Werito
New additions: Tiana Tso, Shania Gallegos, Kara Watchman and Teagan Mosley
Season outlook: "We have a fun group of girls this year who have a good attitude. They are good athletes, and we do have some size. Jasmine Sappington will be a good post player with her height. We just need to get caught up on some fundamentals over the next few weeks. We are going to keep it fun but work hard. Our plan is to compete for a district championship. We know Shiprock is going to be tough, and Thoreau and Wingate are always good, too. We believe we can compete with them, and we want to be able to go to state. We have good enough athletes on the team to get there." -- Tom Adair
Coach: Rainy Crisp, eighth season
Last year's finish: 14-13 overall, 8-5 District 1-2A, lost in state quarterfinals
Key returners: Ashley Joe, Muriel Waukazoo, Khadijah Jackson, RaineeSommer Yazzie, Matheney Wilson, Hannah Antone, Keona Leano and Jasmine Coleman
Season outlook: The Navajo Prep basketball team and coach Rainy Crisp are at the state volleyball tournament, and Crisp could not be reached for comment by press times. For a more complete look at this year's Lady Eagles, stay tuned to daily-times.com.John Livingston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 505-564-4648. Follow him on Twitter @jlivi2.