Navajo Prep Lady Eagles rout Shiprock in season opener

Steven Bortstein
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Navajo Prep's girls basketball team opened their season in front of a packed house Tuesday night inside the Scorpion Arena at Farmington High School.

The two-time defending Class 3A state champions didn't disappoint their fans, rolling over Shiprock by a final of 66-25 while also welcoming back one of their most inspirational stars in senior Laila Charley.

Charley was involved in a near-fatal accident on July 15, 2020 which left her with fractured bones in her head and suffering from a traumatic brain injury. After being off the court for more than 16 months, Charley made her return to action Tuesday night and was welcomed back by a standing ovation.

"It's so exciting to be back in front of my friends and fans and my family," Charley said before the game. "It's been a long, tough road coming back."

More:Navajo Prep basketball star Laila Charley receives 2021 Spirit of Sport Award from NMAA

Navajo Prep was led on the court by sophomore Aniya Johnson, who scored a game-high 20 points on the night, and by senior Amber Garcia, who scored 12 of her 14 points in the first half. The Eagles went into the locker room with a 41-18 advantage over the Chieftains.

"(Garcia) picked up right where she left off last season," said Navajo Prep girls basketball coach Rainy Crisp after the game. "She knows what it takes to get back to that level."

Johnson and Garcia were dominant forces defensively as well, as they helped stifle Shiprock's offense much of the game, limiting them to only nine points in the second half.

More:Navajo Prep girls win back-to-back 3A state basketball titles

"The girls have been practicing hard and asking a lot of questions," Crisp said. "That lets me know they really want to get better."

The return of Charley to the team was a motivational moment for the Eagles as well. When she was introduced into the game midway through the first quarter, the game was stopped as she was greeted by a thunderous applause and was embraced by players and coaches from both teams. 

Navajo Prep's Amber Garcia (14) looks to go up for a basket while surrounded by Shiprock defenders in the second quarter of a girls basketball game Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021 inside the Scorpion Arena at Farmington High School

"We're all so excited to see her back on the court," Crisp said. "After all she's been through since the accident, it's an exciting moment for her and the team."

The Eagles were relentless in the opening half, particularly defensively where they forced nearly a half-dozen turnovers in the second quarter, leading to easy baskets and a 23-point advantage at the end of the first half.

Navajo Prep (1-0) will be back at Scorpion Arena Tuesday, Dec. 7 when they face Farmington. Shiprock (0-2) will be home Thursday at 7 p.m. to open the Jerry Richardson Invitational Tournament when they square off with Shiprock Northwest.

Steve Bortstein can be reached via email at SBortstein@Gannett.com, via Twitter @DTSBortstein or on the phone at (505) 635-2680.