FARMINGTON – A little more than a month into the 2015-16 season, the Shiprock Northwest girls and boys basketball teams are starting to hit their stride.
Both teams are under the direction of a new head coach, meaning players had to learn a new system and have had little time to prepare.
“The girls are coming along. It’s been kind of an up-and-down season,” Shiprock Northwest girls head coach Pete Atcitty said. “It feels like I have two teams sometimes, but we’re working with them and being patient. The girls are still learning my new system, and I’m still learning things about the girls and what game situations they’re most comfortable in.”
The Lady Falcons are off to a 4-6 start after loading their nondistrict schedule with larger and tougher programs to help prepare them for a run in District 1-2A.
“I have confidence in them — they’ll be ready. We’ll get them ready by district; they just need to be a little more consistent,” Atcitty said. “If they play at the top of their game, like we have in some of these first few games, I think we should be able to compete in our district.”
The Lady Falcons already have met 3A Newcomb twice this season, winning 45-36 at home, then falling 50-42 at Wingate’s Holiday Classic Tournament. Northwest also split its home-and-home series with Red Valley-Cove out of Red Mesa, Ariz.
Atcitty said the Lady Falcons have been much better at home than on the road. He said the difference may be the girls’ confidence and that they are more comfortable playing on their home court, or that the long bus rides to away games are taking a toll on the team.
Leading the Lady Falcons is sophomore point guard Rayeisha Thomas, who is averaging around 12 points per game, and senior post Miah Willie, who is averaging almost 10 points per game.
Atcitty said Thomas and Willie are two of the team’s leaders, while senior Meralda Barbone is the team’s anchor on defense.
Last season, the Lady Falcons finished 16-13 and earned an at-large bid to the 2A state tournament as the No. 15 seed. In the first round, the team met eventual state champion Melrose and fell 78-17.
Atcitty said the girls are hungry to get back to the state tournament and improve on last year’s first-round exit.
“I talked to a couple of the girls and they want to get back to the state tournament,” Atcitty said. “They really want to get back. They enjoyed the experience, and they want to get back, get a higher seed and do better.”
The boys team is under the direction of Devon Lapahie, who spent last season as the boys head coach at Aztec.
Lapahie is charged with turning the boys program around after the Falcons finished the 2014-15 season 0-25.
“They’re coming along,” Lapahie said of his players. “At first, I only had six boys on the team and had to forfeit a few games because some of the boys didn’t have enough practices in. But now, the boys are coming along well. We’ve had a few more guys come out, so I have nine players now.”
Through their first six games this season, the Falcons are 1-5, picking up a win over Bloomfield’s junior varsity team at Navajo Prep’s Eagle’s Classic earlier this month.
Lapahie said his focus has been working with his players on the fundamentals of the game. He has been teaching his players to get into a good defensive position and box out, which he said has been an issue for the team.
“Right now, the fundamentals, defense, boxing out and free throws, that has been the difference between us staying in a game or losing by 15 or 20 points,” Lapahie said.
Lapahie is looking to juniors Elijah Mark and Fernando Ben to take charge as leaders on the team, and he said the two already have embraced that role by helping and motivating their teammates.
Right now, the Falcons are focused on getting ready for District 1-2A play and working to shed the label of being Shiprock’s second school and basketball team.
“Every game we play before district is time for us to get better and improve," Lapahie said. "We want to be competitive. I know people kind of look down on Northwest as kind of the second school in Shiprock, and we want to fight through that. And it is true, we are kind of the younger brother of Shiprock High, but there are two ways to look at it. You can take being the younger brother and accept it, and accept defeat and not even try, or you can go out and get better, be motivated and play to your fullest potential.”
Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648.