After moving far away, former San Juan County athletes dealing with unknowns of season

Matt Hollinshead,
Former Farmington girls soccer player McKenzie Coleman, seen here playing against Eldorado on Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018, at Hutchison Stadium in Farmington, looks to get her tenure at NCAA Division I Villanova University started this fall.

FARMINGTON — Analyss Benally and McKenzie Coleman both have strong San Juan County ties, but moved far away from home to further their high school and collegiate athletic endeavors.

Benally, a Shiprock native, moved to Wichita, Kansas back in 2010 and played high school basketball for a perennial state playoff contender in Heights.

Coleman, a former Farmington girls soccer player, moved to Berwyn, Pennsylvania — just outside Philadelphia — after scoring 27 goals for FHS in 2018. She played her final year of high school ball for Pennsylvania girls soccer powerhouse and 2019 state runner-up Conestoga, scoring 20 goals. Conestoga has won 69 matches since 2016.

Benally is now bracing for her redshirt-senior year playing basketball at NCAA Division I San Jose State University, while Coleman signed with NCAA Division I Villanova for soccer back in April.

Both hope the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic won't dash their college athletic dreams.

"I think the virus had made it really hard to prepare. It’s definitely been more stressful than it was supposed to be," Coleman said.

Benally and Coleman are back home here in the Four Corners to be with family while waiting for the official go-ahead to resume playing.

“Everybody’s having to play by ear and adjust to the circumstances because they’re constantly changing,” Coleman said. “You can’t prepare for something that’s uncertain…”

Coleman said it's already hard enough for one to transition to college sports, adding it’s all the more stressful for incoming true freshmen.

And the unknowns surrounding the pandemic have made it difficult to deal with.

“It’s been one of the hardest things I’ve had to accept,” Coleman said.

Additionally, there was the thought of family.

Benally's mother, Vikki, is on the frontline working at the Northern Navajo Medical Center in Shiprock.

“I think about it every day. I do worry, but I know she’s in good hands," Benally said.

In the meantime, all Coleman and Benally can do is continue offseason workouts, and wait.

Benally has spent these last few months continuing to rehab a torn labrum in her right shoulder, which cut her 2019-2020 season short.

Benally said she's doing 12-15 different exercises to help her regain mobility in her shoulder, adding she's feeling better about her shooting form.

“I find time throughout the day to make sure it gets done... I take it very seriously,” Benally said. “I’m preparing my body and everything that (the season's) going to happen. We don’t know everything that’s going to happen. It has been scary watching the news.”

Because both moved far away to enhance their high school and college ball prospects, they hope it won't be in vain.

Both hope this upcoming season will take place, even if it means no fans at games.

“It’d help with the normalities of everything,” Coleman said. “You still get to train, and you still feel like an athlete. You still get to have game days.”

Matt Hollinshead covers sports for the Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577 and on Twitter at @MattH_717.

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