SHIPROCK — The Shiprock Lady Chieftains basketball team made a statement on Saturday: they are ready to contend for a state championship.
After a two-point win against the defending 4A champions Los Lunas, the Lady Chiefs got past Hope Christian 51-35 in Albuquerque to capture the host Lady Huskies' tournament title and move Shiprock's record to a perfect 19-0.
Forward Courtney Steele earned tournament Most Valuable Player honors in large part because of her rebounding and interior defense.
Shiprock head coach Larenson Henderson said he was impressed by the 5-foot-11-inch senior's ability to fend off the taller Hope Christian post players for loose balls.
"She did an outstanding job of rebounding for us. She went after the ball and kept big players out of rebounding position," Henderson said. "There were times she'd really amaze me. Hope has three six-foot players, and they'd all go for it, and you'd see Courtney get up above them and pull in the rebound."
Steele said the team was looking forward to the matchup with Hope Christian after the Lady Huskies eliminated Shiprock in the state semifinals a season ago.
"When we were all sitting together, we'd bring up how we lost to them last year," she said. "During that time, we were able to think about what we wanted to do during the game."
Steele also contributed during key moments on offense for the Lady Chiefs throughout the tournament.
"Offensively, she had to put backs and hit a 3-pointer every game, which forced big players to come out to guard her and opened up driving lanes for our guards," Henderson said.
Steele credited Shiprock's success during the non-district season to the team's unselfish mindset, which has led to opened shots and balanced scoring.
"We just share the ball. We're not about scoring or who gets the most points, it's a balance thing," Steele said.
The teamwork has been noticed as the other four Lady Chiefs starters -- Shania Harry, Aranxta Curley, Tayler Henderson and Ashley John -- all made the all-tournament team with Steele.
"It's well deserved. They find each other. They're unselfish, and, when someone is open, they get the ball," Larenson Henderson said.
The Lady Chiefs only have district play left before the state tournament. Even though an undefeated season is in the forefront of the players' minds, the Shiprock coach said the team can't afford to look that far ahead and needs to stay focused on each game.
"Right now, we're playing every game like it's a championship game, because you're only going to get that one opportunity at state," Henderson said. "If we have an off-night, any team can beat us. But they're proving to me that they are willing to be resilient against teams and make big shots. I think they have it in them."
After making the playoffs last season and getting to experience postseason basketball in The Pit, Steele thinks her team has all the pieces in place to make a run at a championship.
"Last year's starting five is the same as this year's starting five, and the underclassmen have done really good and stepped up," she said. "We just need to play exactly how we did against Hope and that will carry us through the rest of the games."
10 questions with Courtney Steele
Favorite pregame meal: Pasta.
Favorite movie: Ride Along.
What is your favorite and least favorite class: My favorite class is English and my least favorite is math.
Favorite music: Hip Hop.
Favorite team: Chicago Bulls.
Favorite athlete: Derrick Rose.
What are you plans after high school: I want to go to college and major in physical therapy.
If you could have any superpower, which one would you pick: Speed.
What would you do if you won the lottery: Travel the world.
What's your favorite part about playing for the Lady Chieftains: Being a role model. When I was small, I used to go to games and want to play for them. Now that I'm here, it's pretty cool.