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After being recruited to play both basketball and softball at the next level, Nykki Benally decided playing basketball for Haskell Indian Nations University was the best fit

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FARMINGTON — Piedra Vista’s Nykki Benally faced a difficult decision over the past couple of months as she weighed whether she would play basketball or softball at the college level.

She had options of playing either sport at the next level and ultimately chose to continue her hoops career at Haskell Indian Nations University, signing a letter of intent this afternoon.

Benally said part of the reason she chose Haskell over other programs was the result of persistent recruiting from head coach Shane Flanagan.

“He contacted me throughout the season and told me, ‘We need you. We need you on this team. You’re a great fit,’” Benally said. “I liked Haskell because it’s going to help me get a degree, and it was a dream for me to go to college and keep playing and achieving my goals.”

Haskell is a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics and is located in Lawrence, Kan. The team finished the 2015-16 season 23-7.

Benally was recruited by a handful of other programs for both basketball and softball, and one school, Bacone College in Muskogee, Okla., began recruiting her to play both sports late in the softball season. Benally said she struggled to make a choice between basketball and softball during the recruiting process while family and friends made their cases for which they thought would be best.

“It was hard choosing which I wanted to do because part of my family wanted me to play softball and another part of my family wanted me to play basketball, but it was my decision, and I felt basketball was the best fit,” she said.

On the softball field, Benally was PV’s starting center fielder and three-hole hitter. Playing in 24 of PV’s 30 games, she finished the season with a .408 batting average, and tied for the team lead in home runs (7) and tied for second in RBIs (32).

Benally has been the face of the PV girls basketball program for the past two seasons, leading the team in points (21.4), assists (4.7) and steals (3.0) per game during her senior season. She was named first team All-State for her senior season.

“They’re going to get an ultimate competitor. I’ve never seen someone want to be successful so badly before,” PV head coach Joe Reed said. “She’s not afraid to take the big shot, and she wants the ball in her hands at the big moments, and she’s a great facilitator. They’re going to get a great all-around player.”

To go with her skill level on the court and competitive nature, Benally was the vocal and emotional leader for the Lady Panthers, which are two more reasons the coaching staff at Haskell was so high on signing her.

“That’s one of the things (Haskell) liked about her — her leadership and the way she commands the floor. I expect her to get on the court and compete for a starting job right away,” Reed said.

Benally plans to major in media communications for broadcasting, saying she hopes to do play-by-play announcing of athletics for radio.

When she gets to Lawrence and joins her teammates at Haskell, Benally said she want to carry the Lady Panthers’ philosophy with her.

“The attitude of the program here (at PV) for basketball was, ‘If someone is going to put you down, just get back up and prove them wrong,’” she said. “There were a lot of can’ts out there. ‘You can’t do this. You’re too small for that.’ I just want to prove them wrong.”

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

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