SHIPROCK — It’s not tough to lose track of Paige Dale on the basketball court. In fact, it can happen pretty easily.
It’s not because the Shiprock senior guard doesn’t deserve the attention of opposing defenses. And it’s not because she’s overmatched on the court and hides from the action.
It’s because she’s so consistent.
She rarely forces a shot or a pass, almost waiting for the other team’s attention span to drift from her to someone else before she pounces.
That was the case in Shiprock’s season opener Saturday against Gallup.
The fierce rivals traded blows through the first three quarters, fighting to build a lead. When the fourth quarter started, the Lady Bengals — trailing 55-51 — lost track of Dale, more focused on trying to slow down Tanisha Begay and Dale’s younger sister, Tayya, who came off the bench to score 20 points.
And that’s when Paige Dale took charge, sparking a 14-0 Shiprock run and scoring 9 of her 13 points in the fourth quarter to help push the Lady Chieftains to an 83-65 win.
“For her to step up like that in the fourth quarter was great. She’s capable of doing those things, she just needs to get a little more confident in times like that,” Shiprock coach Larenson Henderson said. “I know she struggled with (her confidence) last year, and to see her come out like that was really good to see, especially with her being a senior.”
The win meant more to Dale than just a good way to start her senior season. She grew up in Gallup and played for the Lady Bengals for part of her freshman season before her family moved to Shiprock. And after losing to Gallup in the season opener as a sophomore and junior, the recent win gave Dale the final bit of bragging rights over the girls she grew up with.
“I think it was awesome because I used to go to school there. I wanted to win and have that feeling, because in the past years, it’s always been close, but they beat us,” Dale said. “This time, we came at them, and it was a big surprise. I was pretty excited.”
Dale and the Lady Chieftains play their home games in front of maybe the largest and loudest fan base in the state at the Chieftain Pit.
Hundreds of screaming fans pack into the bleachers, their eyes fixed on the Lady Chieftains for every minute of every game. For some players, the experience can be overwhelming.
But the calmness Dale displays during games gives the impression she can tune out everything, as if a protective bubble wraps around the court, blocking out the faces and chants of the crowd, leaving her to play the game her own way.
Henderson said Dale is always calm and collected when she’s on the court, never letting her emotions get too high or too low.
But that demeanor isn’t always a reflection of how Dale feels.
“It’s kind of nerve racking, especially at the start of the season,” Dale said of the crowd. “There are all these people who expect a lot out of you and you have to calm yourself down. I know a lot of people here, and a lot of people know me, so I try to play hard every single game and stay consistent."
The win over Gallup is sure to be the first of many for the Lady Chieftains this season. They’ve been one of the best teams in the state the last few years and lost to Hope Christian in the state title game in March.
This season, Shiprock is among the favorites to make a run at the state championship, and Dale said this year’s Lady Chieftains have something that could make the difference between a championship and another runner-up finish.
“There’s a really big connection between everyone this year,” Dale said. “We all get along, we all share the ball, and we’re always there to pick each other up. I think that’s the biggest thing. We know we have each other.”
Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648.
A closer look: Paige Dale
1. What’s your favorite movie?
2. Favorite subject in school?
3. Least favorite subject?
4. What’s your favorite food on the Thanksgiving dinner table?
5. Do you play any other sports?
“I run cross-country.”
6. If you won $1 million, what’s the first thing you’d do with the money?
“Pay off my mom and dad’s bills.”
7. Do you have any pre-game rituals?
“Listen to music, pray and stretch out.”
8. What’s your biggest fear?
“Losing my grandparents.”
9. If you could go on vacation anywhere, where would you go?
“Florida. I’ve always planned on going there just to see how it is.”
10. If you could have any super power, what you it be?