Senior point guard has hand in Aztec's nine-game winning streak
BLOOMFIELD — The Aztec girls basketball team has won 11 games or more only three times in the past eight seasons. Less than a week into 2016, the Lady Tigers have already eclipsed that win total.
Senior Elana Kresl is one of the primary reasons Aztec is already 12-2 a little more than a month into the season. A relentless, lead-by-example effort from the point guard and her backcourt-mate, Myra McCaskill, has guided Aztec to nine straight wins.
Kresl, a four-sport athlete, is tops on the team in scoring, with 10 points per game, and she's tied for the team-lead in steals with 3.0 per game.
Last week, the Lady Tigers ventured to California to play in a four-day tournament. Aztec wanted to use the out-of-state competition as a barometer for the team at the turn of the year. The results were good, and Aztec looks to be a legitimate force in District 1-5A after going 4-0 in the tournament and winning the silver division title.
Lady Tigers coach Robert McCaskill said Kresl, who scored in double figures in three of the four tournament games, was rock solid in California.
"All the qualities she displays in all four sports were on display really the whole time," McCaskill said. "Defense, effort, confidence and leadership."
Without the ability to prepare for a different style of high school basketball in California, Kresl didn't know what to expect, aside from a lot of physical defense.
"I knew the girls out there would be a lot bigger than me," Kresl said. "We didn't have any film on them, but McCaskill let us know the games would be physical."
In the tourney, Kresl never let her offensive play dictate her defense, which is what Aztec prides itself on. McCaskill is a firm believer that defense never goes away as long as the effort is there, even if offensive outputs fluctuate. Kresl is the poster child of that mentality.
In the championship game on Wednesday, Kresl scored an uncharacteristic three points as Aztec crushed Exeter, Calif., 46-19. But her defense on the perimeter went a long way in holding the runners-up to a microscopic 19 points.
Ever the team player, Kresl said she doesn't need to score to be happy with her performances.
"I love games where I don't score as much," Kresl said. "I know people think of me as the high scorer, but I don't like it. I like to set my teammates up to score. And when they can score a lot and I can focus on playing great defense, that's what I love."
The Lady Tigers have improved in each of the three years McCaskill has been head coach. Kresl joined the varsity team prior to McCaskill's first year, and she said she's well aware of how much progress the program has made.
"I was just joking with McCaskill the other day, I asked him, 'Do you think that we sucked before you got here?' and he was like, 'No comment,'" Kresl said. "But honestly, I didn't learn how to play basketball until he got here."
McCaskill said Kresl has shown a lot of growth since her sophomore year.
"Before, she didn't really have the confidence to go with her skills," he said. "But that part of her game has really stepped up."
Four-sport athletes aren't unheard of, but they can be few and far between, especially when the athlete holds a 4.2 GPA like Kresl. The same hard work that has made her successful in basketball has also made her one of Aztec's best soccer players and cross-country and track runners.
In the fall, Kresl won the District 1-5A individual girls race and finished in the top 10 at state. She did that while playing goalkeeper for Aztec's soccer team, where she was named to the All-District team and was an All-State honorable mention.
She was recently named Athlete of the Year at Aztec High School. Lady Tigers cross-country coach Steve Lanier said he thinks she's been one of the more special athletes to ever walk through Aztec's doors.
"She's always been pretty competitive, but she's taken that to a new level as a senior," he said. "She's matured beyond most high school kids. Her dedication to her teams and to be successful in all facets of high school is not something you see very often."
Cramming four sports into three school seasons doesn't mean Kresl stops to catch her breath in the summer. The busy senior spends her summers trying to improve in all sports, which she said can get chaotic.
"It's crazy because sometimes I want a break, but I love it too much to take one," she said. "I've learned how to balance my time."
Kresl isn't even resting when it comes to her recent acceptance into New Mexico State University. She said she's working on getting a better scholarship and hopes to run cross-country and track for the Lady Aggies.
Jake Newby covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577 and email@example.com.
A closer look: Elana Kresl
1. Favorite team?
"New England Patriots."
2. Favorite athlete?
3. Favorite food?
4. Favorite movie?
"I just watched 'Sisters,' so I guess I'll go with that."
5. Favorite subject in school?
6. Least favorite subject?
7. Biggest fear?
"Not being as successful as I want to be."
8. Do you play any other sports?
"Cross-country, soccer and track."
9. What is the first thing you would do with $1 million?
"Donate it and save it."
10. Do you have any pregame rituals?
"I don't like to be too serious because that messes me up, so I like to goof around with my teammates."