KC duo signs letters of intent for college hoops

Shamika Benally has signed with Little Priest Tribal College, and Krystal Sheka will attend Northeastern Junior College

Karl Schneider
Kirtland Central's Shamika Benally, left, and Krystal Sheka signed letters of intent to play college basketball on Tuesday at Kirtland Central High School.

KIRTLAND — Kirtland Central’s Shamika Benally and Krystal Sheka are getting chances neither one expected as the duo signed letters of intent to play college basketball this afternoon.

Benally inked with Little Priest Tribal College, and Sheka signed with Northeastern Junior College.

"I think both of them were kind of surprised because I don’t think either one of them were really planning on playing anywhere. I think they made a good choice," KC head coach John Zecca said. "I think it will be a great experience for both of them. I like the fact that they’re going to smaller schools, and they can still get that full college experience. I think it will be great for them, and I couldn’t be happier."

Little Priest and Northeastern are members of the National Junior College Athletic Association. Little Priest is located in Winnebago, Neb., and competes in Region 11 of the NJCAA. Northeastern is based in Sterling, Colo., and competes in Region 9.

One of the biggest adjustments Benally and Sheka will have to make while playing for their respective programs will be the size and speed of their opposition. But Zecca said he believes they’ll make the adjustment quickly.

Both Benally and Sheka said key reasons in their decisions to choose their respective schools were the welcomes they received when they visited the campuses earlier this season.

"I went a couple months back to visit and for tryouts, and they were just nice people," Sheka said. "I met all the girls and coaches, and everyone was really nice."

Kirtland Central's Krystal Sheka posts up against Valencia on Jan. 2 at Bronco Arena in Kirtland.

Sheka was a matchup nightmare for opposing teams during her high school career. She had the size, strength and soft touch around the basket to post up smaller defenders. And if the opposition put another post on Sheka, she’d step out to the perimeter to knock down a 3-pointer or beat the defender off the dribble.

Going to the next level, Sheka expects to play at one of the guard positions. Northeastern was 9-19 last season.

"She really started to come on late in the year with her outside shooting," Zecca said. "She’s always had that nice touch, I just think it took her about half the season to put everything together to where she was consistently hitting quite a few threes, especially in district games that were big for us.”

After suffering a knee injury during her junior season, Benally’s production took a hit, but as this past season wore on, she returned to form as a scoring threat from anywhere on the floor.

"When she started to finally get recovered from her injury, she started to get back to the old Shamika who was deadly from the outside," Zecca said. "It took her a while, but she was getting her shot off quick, and getting it off of the dribble, which you don’t see all that often at this level.”

Kirtland Central's Shamika Benally takes a shot against Farmington on Jan. 9 at Bronco Arena in Kirtland.

While it took Benally time to get back into rhythm offensively, Zecca said she has always had a knack for the game, and it was rare for her to ever be in the wrong spot on the floor.

Little Priest added athletics in 2014, and after two tough seasons — going a combined 0-19  — the women’s basketball program is looking to reboot its style and philosophy with new head coach Leonard Erickson. Benally said she's excited to be part of that.

"They’re rebuilding the program. The coaches are new, everything’s new," Benally said. "They’ve had really bad seasons the past couple of years, so (Erickson) wants to change everything, and I’m pretty excited about it. Even if we win a game, it’s making history right there."

Benally plans to major in indigenous health and science and wants to go to nursing school after her time at Little Priest.

Sheka said she’ll major in criminal justice and hopes to be a police officer after college.

Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648.