FARMINGTON — The Shiprock girls basketball team is ready for another run at the 4A state title this season.
The Lady Chieftains haven’t brought a state title back to Shiprock since 2002 but have been close recently, finishing runners-up in two of the last three years. And their last two state title losses in 2014 and 2016 have come by a combined six points.
“I don’t think you can take away how much they want to be back there. They’re working hard every day in practice and they're excited,” Shiprock coach Larenson Henderson said. “We’re going to be exciting this year. It’s going to be a different look, but I’m excited about it.”
This year’s team will look a different from last year’s version of the Lady Chieftains — who went 29-4 and lost 51-48 to Hope Christian in the state title — after losing five players, including two starters, to graduation, and a lot of their size in the post.
But Shiprock will return this year’s version of a Big Three with seniors Paige Dale and Tanisha Begay and junior Tia Woods.
“Their leadership is going to be a huge factor. I’m really looking forward to seeing how they make the team better with their leadership and getting the team to be successful together,” Henderson said. “As far as playing, I know they’ll be there. They’re well skilled and make the team better, but I’m really excited to see how they become better leaders.”
Henderson said he also has a good group of younger players he expects will make a major impact on the varsity squad this season.
With the loss of most of last year’s size, Shiprock will feature a wide range of guards who will force defenses to defend the 3-point shot, opening up driving lanes the team can exploit with it speed.
New to 4A and joining Shiprock in District 1-4A this year will be Navajo Prep.
The Lady Eagles landed in 4A after reclassification bumped them up from 3A.
“It’s a lot of encouraging and assuring the girls that we are able to play with the 4A competition," Prep coach Rainy Crisp said. "I think this summer was huge for us. Going into 4A, we really wanted to take our summer more seriously, and that played a huge part. We’ll see how the start of it goes.”
Prep went 13-16 last season and lost to No. 6 Cuba in the first round of the 3A state tournament.
The Lady Eagles return the bulk of last year’s team after losing just two players to graduation.
Back to lead Prep this season will be sophomore Martinique Larvingo and the team’s lone senior Harlei Haceesa.
“My leadership role will go to Harlei Haceesa," Crisp said. "She has that experience from last year. She knows what the competition is like and how hard it is to compete at state. She has the experience that we’ll need the girls to look to.”
Crisp said the Lady Eagles also have a few underclassmen with great athletic abilities to help the team; it’s just a matter of getting them comfortable and confident playing at a higher level.
Rounding out District 1-4A this year will be Thoreau and Wingate.
The two teams each finished the 2015-2016 season with losing records. Wingate landed the No. 16 seed in the state tourney, losing to No. 1 Portales, while Thoreau did not reach the post season.
Both teams could be in for a rebuilding season after being hit hard by graduation. Of the 12 players listed on last year’s roster for the Lady Bears, eight were seniors, while Thoreau lost six seniors.
Prep’s season gets underway Thursday when the Lady Eagles host Dulce at 6:30 p.m.
Shiprock will open the season on Saturday, hosting last year’s 5A runner-up Gallup at 4 p.m. at the Chieftain Pit.
Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648.