Defensive-minded Navajo Prep junior has a team-leading 11.4 points per game after working to improve on offense in the off-season
FARMINGTON — During her 12-year stint as head coach of the Navajo Prep girls basketball team, Rainy Crisp has watched good players plateau as they've aged.
Junior guard/forward Martinique Larvingo has not been one of those.
Since she started playing basketball at age 6, Larvingo has been infatuated with the defensive element of the game, and her team-leading 3.3 steals per game this season speak to that.
"She, right now, is our top defender," Crisp said. "Not only because of how lanky she is, but because she's one of those players that will take pride in her defense. That's her strong point of her game."
Larvingo — who is better known as "Monty," a nickname coined by her grandmother — played basketball in middle school in Bloomfield before transferring to Navajo Prep. She said the middle school program preached offense and she recalls thinking that mindset was backwards. When Larvingo began playing under Crisp, who has long preached the "defense wins games" mantra, she knew it was a perfect fit.
But after a 13-16 Lady Eagles' record last year and a first-round exit from the 3A state playoffs, Larvingo said she went into the off-season determined to make strides on the offensive side of the ball.
"I hated offense, and I loved defense. The first thing I loved growing up about basketball was defense," Larvingo said. "So, coming up being point guard and knowing that some of our scorers graduated and stuff, I took the initiative to get better at offense."
Last summer, Larvingo worked with her uncles on spot shooting, pull-up shooting and her drive and attack game, which has been a seamless addition to the repertoire of the speedy track and field athlete.
That extra time in the gym has translated into a team-leading 11.4 points per game on 63 percent shooting from the field for a Prep team that is off to an 8-3 start.
For a player who believes she was "bad" at offense until recently, Larvingo sure looked the part of a big-time scorer last week during a game against Montrose, Colo., in the Lady Tiger Rumble in the Jungle tournament in Aztec.
The Lady Eagles lost to Montrose 40-39, but had it not been for Larvingo and her 18 points, the score could have been a lot uglier.
Larvingo was a play-making machine in the final five minutes of the loss, propelling Prep to make a furious comeback after trailing by as many as 12 points after halftime. In one sequence, she drove into the lane, realized it was clogged, retreated and then quickly whipped a pass under the basket to a teammate for an easy layup. The next time down the floor, she missed a shot inside, collected the offensive rebound, then threw the ball up for a made field goal as she stumbled up the base line.
Larvingo wasn't done there, taking a key trip to the free-throw line after getting fouled on a 3-point try with less than 20 seconds left. With a chance to tie the game, she missed her first free throw before burying the next two.
"Everything was good until the end," Larvingo said of her follow through on the first free-throw attempt. "My hand kind of went to the side."
Prep forced a turnover on the ensuing inbound and had a chance to steal the victory with 13 seconds left and down by just 1 point. The final play was designed to go to Larvingo, but good defense on Montrose's part forced the Lady Eagles to rush the possession and heave up a low-percentage shot for a miss.
It was all instinct for Larvingo, who shakes her head with a smile when reflecting on her late-game outburst.
"I knew that team was so beatable," Larvingo said. "We were just making dumb mistakes the whole game. And on our team, we only have one senior. We look to her, and I guess it was just one of those games where she wasn't hitting her shots a lot, so I took the initiative to get the team going."
Prep bounced back less than 24 hours later to trounce Crownpoint 73-26 in a game where Larvingo netted 12 points and had five steals. She was the only Lady Eagle named to the all-tournament team.
While piecing together a formidable offensive game took extra tutoring for Larvingo, she has not needed a tutorial on how to be a leader.
"That's the great thing about Monty, is she's one of those natural leaders," Crisp said. "She doesn't hesitate to speak up. She's just a natural leader that will step up in any situation."
Jake Newby covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.
A closer look: Martinique Larvingo
1. Favorite athlete?
2. Favorite team?
3. Favorite food?
4. Favorite movie?
5. Favorite subject in school?
6. Least favorite subject?
7. Do you have a New Year's resolution?
"To go far in state this year."
8. What is the first thing you would do with $1 million?
"Pay off my grandma's bills."
9. Favorite song to pump you up before games?
"Tsunami (by DVBBS & Borgeous)."
10. Do you have any pregame rituals?
"I like to picture how the game will go, picture a good game."