FARMINGTON — The Piedra Vista boys and girls basketball teams face a daunting task this season.
The two teams made the jump from 5A to 6A this year and landed in a brutal District 1-6A that includes Cibola, Cleveland, Rio Rancho and Volcano Vista.
The PV girls put together a great season a year ago, going 17-10. The Lady Panthers earned the No. 9 seed in the 5A state tournament and advanced to the quarterfinals at The Pit in Albuquerque before losing to No. 1 Gallup 66-63.
Repeating last year’s magic won’t be easy for a couple of reasons.
PV graduated its top two leading scorers, Nykki Benally and Monique Russell, who combined to score more than half of the team’s points last season.
Also against PV is the depth of District 1-6A. Last season, the four other teams in the district made the state tournament. Volcano Vista, the No. 2 overall seed, beat Cibola, the No. 1 seed, 33-31 for the title.
“The district is going to be phenomenal,” PV coach Joe Reed said. “You have to win your home games. Our goal is to split and win our home games and do enough to get into one of those top-eight spots for a home game come playoff time.”
This season, the Lady Panthers will look to Elli Wright, the lone senior on the team, to expand her role on the court. Wright was a regular starter for the Lady Panthers a year ago and played in every game. She averaged 9.3 points per game and a team-high 5.6 rebounds while being extremely efficient. Over the course of the season, she hit 48 percent of her shots, including 41 percent from beyond the arc, and made 75 percent of her free throws.
Joining Wright in the starting lineup for the second straight year will be sophomore Alexis Long, who served as the team’s starting point guard during her freshman season.
“We’ll definitely be looking to Elli Wright to be the team leader and Alexis Long to be our point guard and take care of the basketball for us,” Reed said. “Also, we bring back Hannah Sayyeau, who had a couple great games last year, including the state game against Gallup at The Pit. She’s a sniper and can knock down any shot on the floor.”
The PV boys' road through district will be equally as tough. The four other teams all made the state tourney last year, with Cleveland and Cibola receiving the second and third seeds, respectively, and Rio Rancho capturing the title as the No. 11 seed.
The Rams have a chance to repeat as state champs this year after losing just one player — who averaged fewer than eight minutes per game last season — to graduation.
PV, which went 15-15 last year, comes into the season under the direction of new head coach Devon Manning. Manning spent the previous four seasons at Bloomfield and guided the Bobcats to the 4A quarterfinals last season, their first state quarterfinals appearance since the 2009-2010 season.
Manning said the preseason has been a bit rocky, pointing to a scrimmage against Bloomfield last week.
“It was a rough scrimmage. We weren’t where we needed to be, and we’re still trying to figure it out a little bit,” Manning said. “We thought we were throwing a little too much at them up to that point, so this last week we really broke things down and addressed some things we needed to talk about.”
Manning added part of the problem the Panthers had during the scrimmage was their tendency to break away from the team’s system and game plan.
“It’s going to come down to if they trust the system,” he said. “If they trust the system, we’ll be fine. But if we decide to do our own stuff and go rogue, that’s when we’re going to get in trouble.”
Back to lead PV this season will be juniors Jarrett Graham and Brady Brown. The two were regular starters for the Panthers a year ago, and Manning said he’ll look to them for leadership of the young team that lost eight seniors from last year’s roster.
Manning said he also expects brothers Shanden and Terrall Todacheeny to play a lot of minutes for PV, as well as Christian Chavez, who carries varsity experience after playing in 25 of a possible 27 games last year.
Along with experience, the Panthers lack size in the post, which could create problems for the team when they get into district play against bigger teams.
“We weren’t blessed with a lot of size this year. I think we’re 6-(foot)-3, 6-(foot)-4 at the tallest, and that’s being nice, too,” Manning said. “The way we’re going to counteract being smaller is playing harder. Rather than letting bigger teams post up where they want, we have to be quicker than them and smarter than them.”
Both the Lady Panthers and Panthers begin their seasons Saturday.
The Lady Panthers will host Miyamura, while the boys squad will travel to Gallup to play Miyamura. Both games are scheduled to start at 4 p.m.
Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648.