FARMINGTON – Tai Tai Woods is no stranger to the big games. She embraces them, having played on the big stage multiple times against the mightiest of foes.
After winning a blue trophy in 2017 and reaching the 2018 state semifinals at Shiprock, combined with her 5A state semifinals appearance with Piedra Vista in 2019, Woods looks to get Navajo Prep into 3A girls basketball immortality in 2020.
"I want them to rely on me... I want to teach them all (that) they can do it, just get them ready when that time comes," the Lady Eagles guard said. "I think (Prep) can do it and go all the way."
Prep, which reached the 3A state semifinals in 2019, is a team built to win it all right now.
Prep returns its core group, including 3A All-State First-Team player Aiona Johnson, and the Lady Eagles are adamant Woods is that final piece toward hoisting the blue trophy in March.
"She has so much basketball knowledge and common sense," coach Rainy Crisp said. "She has just a very smooth shot, but at the same time she's able to take girls off the dribble (with) a nice pull-up. She knows how to get to the basket."
Woods, who transferred to Prep last summer to enroll in the school's International Baccalaureate Program, was a starter at Shiprock, but came off the bench for a deep PV squad.
Woods was discouraged she didn't start while at PV, but playing for the Lady Panthers still did plenty of good.
After learning how to handle the pressure of big games while at Shiprock, Woods said her time at PV taught her how to maintain calm after getting into significant foul trouble during those big games.
"I think (Prep) will catch on, once we're in foul trouble. They'll know when to stay calm and just play," Woods said. "It'll pay off."
Woods also said facing stronger, quicker opponents like La Cueva and West Mesa helped her develop a quicker shot release and even quicker feet.
And now she's back in familiar territory as a starter for Prep.
Woods has seen a large share of different situations, different foes, different match-ups. And yet, she manages to knock down that well-timed 3-pointer and play solid perimeter defense.
"Oh my gosh, I don't know sometimes how she gets the steal," Crisp said. "She reads it very well, and she times things very well. She knows how to anticipate that next pass."
She's already dealt with facing the tougher teams like La Cueva, West Mesa, Hope Christian and Portales, so she's more than ready to do battle with Tularosa, Santa Fe Indian, Socorro and some of the other top 3A squads Prep will likely have to get by.
"I want (another state title) bad. I lost two years in a row in the semis. I don't want to be in that same position again," Woods said.
Matt Hollinshead covers sports for the Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577 and on Twitter at @MattH_717.
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