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FARMINGTON — The Shiprock volleyball team came to play tonight in its one-game playoff with Navajo Prep to decide the regular-season District 1-4A champion.

Prep coach Rainy Crisp called her team's 3-2 loss to Shiprock on Oct. 18, "the biggest mental breakdown we've had this season," and tonight, the Lady Chieftains (15-5) beat Crisp's squad even more soundly, picking up a 3-0 sweep at the neutral site of Wingate High School.

Shiprock earned an automatic bid into this year's 4A state playoffs by winning 25-16, 25-23, 25-16. The Lady Chieftains got it done by playing as a team throughout, according to coach Teri Atcitty.

"It was just basically about having the girls understand they have to work as a team and know where their positions are on the floor," Atcitty said. "And just stay focused, no matter how the game is going."

Navajo Prep (10-8) picked up a measure of momentum toward the end of the first set, according to Crisp, and carried that into what wound up being the only competitive set of the night. But the Lady Eagles regressed in the final set.

"We shot ourselves in the foot too many times," Crisp said. "We couldn't get rhythm going because we would have a net ball or go out on a serve. ... We just killed ourselves with little mistakes."

In the losing effort, Taina Sandoval topped Prep in assists with 16, while Marinique Larvingo had a team-high 14 kills and four blocks. Diamond Jones contributed eight kills.

The District 1-4A tournament begins next week, when Thoreau plays Wingate for the right to visit Navajo Prep for a 6 p.m. match on Thursday. Crisp said she'll be reminding her players that its 10 victories were no fluke.

"We're at a whole new level in 4A, and we've proven we can play at this level," Crisp said. "We just need to step up and avoid these mental breakdowns. We can't keep going backward."

Shiprock will get much of next week off before playing either Prep, Wingate or Thoreau for the district title. Atcitty said she welcomes the opportunity to play Prep for a fourth time, should the Lady Eagles take care of business on Thursday.

"I think it's a good thing for the girls to play against a good team," Atcitty said. "They learn how to fix their faults and work through their downfalls."

Jake Newby covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.

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