FARMINGTON — After a 3-0 start in District 1-4A, the Piedra Vista girls basketball team is in prime position to capture the first district title in school history.
Sophomore Kieyoomia Benally played an important role in catapulting the Lady Panthers into the pole position at the halfway point of their schedule.
Benally torched Kirtland Central and Farmington for a total of 37 points in two key district wins last week.
"I know that since it's district, I need to practice really hard and go hard every game," she said.
The PV guard is playing her first varsity season for the Lady Panthers since transferring from Kirtland. A New Mexico Activties Assocation regulation limited her to junior varsity games during her freshman year.
PV head coach Joe Reed said Benally's talent was apparent last season as well during her junior varsity games for the Lady Panthers.
"We knew last year when she was at the JV level that if we could have played her at the varsity level we would have," Reed said.
Benally and PV forward Kaleigh Graham give the Lady Panthers a dynamic one-two punch with Benally's shooting ability spacing the floor, while Graham dominates with her post play and rebounding.
Reed said that inside-outside presence has been a key component for the Lady Panthers' success.
"If we didn't have the outside shooter, then Kaleigh would never get a touch," Reed said. "We're going to take what they give us. Sometimes it's the inside. Sometimes it's the outside."
Reed also lauded Benally's ability to control games in ways other than simply scoring.
"I've talked to her about her ability to take over a game. In the Aztec game, she came out in the third quarter and just took over and not necessarily by scoring," Reed said. "It was no-look passes. Her court vision is so good. She can take over with her dribbling and distribution and her ability to find the open person."
Benally said she enjoys making plays for her teammates even more than finding points for herself.
"My passing has been really good the last couple of games," she said. "Every game I want a fancy no-look pass, so everyone will get hyped. Whenever people come out on me, that's when I give it to Kaleigh or the other post players or shooters who are open."
The PV guard's work ethic also stands out to her coach.
"She worked hard this summer. She's always the first one in the gym and the last one to leave. It's a lot about her work ethic," Reed said. "She's only going to get better. Her work ethic speaks for itself. I always have to kick her and her little brother out of the gym when it's time to go."
Benally is also very close with her family and said they have had a major impact on her life.
She is named after her great-great grandfather Joe Kieyoomia, who was a survivor of the Bataan Death March during World War II and was a POW in Nagasaki.
"I'm very proud to be named after him," Benally said. "Family is important to me and it's thanks to my mom, my grandma, my little brother and God that I'm able to play."
The Lady Panthers are currently ranked No. 9 in 4A by Maxpreps.com.
With the top eight seeds hosting a first-round playoff game in the state tournament, Benally said one of the team's main goals is to play at home during the postseason.
"We want to host the state round and it'd cool for everybody to come and support us if we go to state," she said.Joshua Perry can be reached at email@example.com; 505-564-4577. Follow him on Twitter @jperrysuu.