FARMINGTON – Despite their youth on paper, Tai Tai Woods and Lanae Billy demonstrated they can handle tough competition like seasoned veterans.
The duo, a sophomore and freshman, respectively, was bound to be a future centerpiece at girls basketball power Shiprock. Then things changed over the summer.
Woods and Billy are now at Piedra Vista, intent on strengthening an already-loaded Lady Panthers squad for the long haul.
“They were very excited when we came here,” Woods recalled.
Right out of the gate, Woods and Billy are providing PV (3-1) with immediate depth on both ends of the floor.
Woods brings solid perimeter defense and steady shooting, while Billy can help create mismatches the rim as a stretch four-type presence because of her length on defense and crafty play on offense.
Woods started for Shiprock the previous two years, while Billy emerged during the final month of last season.
“It’s great to have immediate impact players… two players that can start on any program in the Four Corners,” coach Joe Reed said. “They just help make us deeper.”
Billy made her PV debut starting in last Tuesday’s season opener vs. Kirtland Central, tallying 15 points, nine rebounds and six steals.
“She can do anything on the court. She has a ball in her hand, and she’ll do whatever to get points,” Woods said.
Although Woods came off the bench that night, she had two steals.
“I expected that,” Billy said, smiling. “She’s really good at pressing and getting stops.”
Woods said her parents found better jobs in Farmington over the summer, which led to her transferring to PV. Billy said she made the move for the basketball and education opportunities PV provides.
Both players also believe the fact PV is a rising program made the transition even smoother.
The main change the duo is experiencing, Reed said, is that Shiprock emphasizes more pressure attacking and defending the passing lanes, whereas PV stresses on-ball pressure front and back.
Even so, PV inherited two battle-tested players.
Billy said that she and Woods became mentally tougher on the floor while at Shiprock, especially in late-round state tournament games.
“During the state games, we had to all understand what our duties were and how to play under pressure during the game,” Billy said.
Shiprock won the blue trophy during the 2016-2017 campaign, followed by a state semifinals appearance last season.
Joining a team with two state quarterfinals appearances the last three years, Woods and Billy look to help fill immediate voids left by recent PV graduates Dani Russo and Kristi Lee Bennie.
“They were already a great team before we started here, and we’re just helping them out a little bit more,” Billy said.
After garnering valuable experience at Shiprock, both look to leave their marks right away and for years to come with the Lady Panthers.
Matt Hollinshead covers sports for the Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.