Young Lady Chieftains revel in state experience

Shiprock's bid for back-to-back titles ends with loss to Portales

Matt Hollinshead,
  • The Lady Chieftain roster this season was heavy on younger players.
  • Shiprock trailed Thursday's state semifinal game by 25 points, but narrowed the final deficit to 11.
  • The Lady Chieftains finished the season with a 20-10 record.

ALBUQUERQUE — During preseason training camp, it was unknown how the younger players for the Shiprock girls basketball team would respond to the grind that goes along with playing for a state power.

That group came a long, long way over the course of the season, reaching today's 4A state semifinals against Portales.

As disappointed as the Lady Chieftains were to not repeat as state champions after suffering a 65-54 loss, they kept the bigger picture in mind.

“It’s good to see because two or three years down the road, they’re going to be some top-notch players here in New Mexico,” said coach Larenson Henderson, whose squad has now advanced to the state semifinals or further in each of the last six years.

Down 53-28 entering the fourth quarter against Portales, Shiprock started chipping away, producing points off turnovers.

“It was exciting. It gave us hope, and it made us more pumped to come back. (Games like today) can help us for the next few seasons,” said eighth-grade guard Lanae Billy, one of nine underclassmen this season.

Senior guard Kylie McKinley said games like today will help the younger players improve their mental toughness in the long run because they learned how to play smarter basketball through difficult times.

“That’ll make them better players all the way around,” McKinley said.

Shiprock's Aiona Johnson fires a deep shot against Portales during Thursday's 4A state semifinals in Albuquerque. The Lady Chieftains lost, 65-54.

Today may have been the youthful Chieftains' last game of the season, but they engaged in plenty of tough battles all year, playing the likes of 5A state semifinalists Kirtland Central and Gallup, 5A state finalist Bloomfield and 6A finalist Hobbs, just to name a few.

Shiprock (20-10) then beat 4A heavyweight Silver in Tuesday's 4A quarterfinals, further demonstrating how battle tested the younger players had become.

“They’ll definitely build from this, know what the environment is (like),” senior forward Tia Woods said of the younger group.

Because of this year's experiences, the future is bright for the underclassmen.

“They’re fast, they’re strong, they have faith. (There’s) a whole bunch of potential in them,” freshman point guard Tai Tai Woods said.

Matt Hollinshead covers sports for the Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.