FARMINGTON — When the game was on the line against Kirtland Central last week, the Piedra Vista girls basketball team looked to Alexis Long for the potential game-winner.
Tied at 46 in the final seconds of regulation, she went the length of the court and put up a runner from about 10 feet out that went halfway down before spinning out to send the game to overtime.
But Long more than made up for the miss in overtime, scoring 6 points, including a key 3-pointer from the corner, to help lift the Lady Panthers to a 59-54 victory.
The stellar overtime performance was just the latest in Long’s list of accomplishments that began a little more than a year ago when she was named the team’s starting point guard as a freshman.
“For me, it was a big accomplishment. I always had this dream of playing at PV and to make varsity as a freshman, but to be the point guard and the starter as a freshman, it was a huge accomplishment,” Long said.
PV coach Joe Reed has asked a lot of Long in her brief career at PV, including orchestrating the offense without any varsity experience. It was a tall task for a freshman, but he knew Long was the right player to handle it.
“The first day she walked into the gym, you could tell she had the 'it' factor,” Reed said. “The coaches and I knew it would be rough at first, but she needs to be at the point. We went through some growing pains last year, but you could see it in her eye then that she wasn’t going to be broken by that.”
Now, Long, one of three underclassmen on PV’s 12-player roster, is being asked to do even more. She’s needed as a leader, taking over the roles left by last year’s senior class.
A year ago, Long had the luxury of leaning on seniors Nykki Benally and Monique Russell, who both went on to sign letters of intent to play in college.
Long said playing with Benally and Russell inspired her and taught her how to be part of and lead a team.
But she’s still learning the ins and outs of leadership. Reed said Long's work ethic is a constant example for the Lady Panthers but she needs to improve her voice.
“When the ball is in your hands 80 percent of the time, you have to be vocal,” he said. “Having Nykki and Mo last year, they were able to show her what being a leader is all about. Lexi paid attention to them, and it’s showing on the court this year.”
Long’s growth as a leader could help the Lady Panthers in more ways than one.
Right now, the Lady Panthers don’t have the go-to scoring option they’ve had in the past with Benally and Russell.
Taking charge of the team in practice and in the locker room could carry onto the court and affect Long’s playing style. She showed signs of being the top offensive option against KC, but at times lacks the alpha mindset needed to succeed in the role.
“She’s got the skills, it’s just that sometimes she’s too unselfish to want to take over,” Reed said. “She has to learn that there’s a time and a place when it’s good to be selfish and take over.”
It’s one more box on the sophomore’s list of responsibilities this season: maestro of the offense, leader, clutch performer.
“I usually feel some of the pressure,” Long said, “but it comes with the territory.”
Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648.