Alamo girls make history
The Alamo Navajo girls basketball team is headed to the state high school tournament for the first time in school history.
The Cougars scored a thrilling upset over the To'Hajiilee Warriors in the district championship game last Friday night to earn an automatic berth in the state tourney. Given the 14th seed by a selection committee on Sunday, the Cougars (17-8) will travel to Cliff to face the third-seeded Cowgirls (23-3) on Friday. Game time is set for 5:30 p.m.
"The girls are writing their own page in history," declared Cougars head coach Chee Apachito.
They did it in dramatic fashion, knocking off To'Hajiilee, a team that hadn't lost a district game all season, at To'Hajiilee, 73-71.
Alamo came close to beating the Warriors (16-7) in the final game of the regular season, but lost 64-60. Apachito said that game got his girls believing they could win the rematch a week later. And when the Cougars took an early lead in the championship game, they knew they could.
"That gave them confidence," he said. "Knowing we were leading boosted the kids' energy until the end of the game."
The Cougars maintained a 31-27 advantage at halftime and, except for relinquishing the lead briefly, stayed ahead throughout the second half.
Apachito described the final seconds of the game as frantic.
"It came down to where we had to take care of the ball on an inbound," he said. "They pressed, so we had to run our press breaker. The buzzer rang and everybody went crazy."
As usual, the Cougars were led by Dustine Abeyta, who scored a game-high 29 points.
"She makes our team go," the coach said of the senior. "She's surrounded by other players, but she's the workhorse, and she makes everybody else work."
That hasn't always been the case with Alamo teams. But Apachito was out to change that and laid down the law at the outset of the season.
"At the beginning of the year, I told them it's not going to be how it used to be in the past," he said. "I told them we're going to play basketball the right way. We were going to work hard and have dedication."
The coach credited the girls for responding in a positive way.
"I pushed them hard. It's a lot of hard work they put in and it paid off at the end. They were giving it their best throughout the year," he said.
While Abeyta is the team leader, the other girls followed her good example, the coach said.
Junior Tiyanna Ganadonegro came up big against To'Hajiilee, scoring 14 points, and sophomore Shaniah Vicente added 12. Revina Guerro contributed 10 points and Chanlyne Monte chipped in six.
Apachito said the team also got a boost from the Alamo fans that went to the game.
"A lot of people came because they wanted to witness history," he said. "I would like to thank everybody that went and cheered for our team. They were pretty much like our sixth man."
The coach is hoping his team will get the same kind of support this Friday when the Cougars attempt to pull off another upset at Cliff, a school with a rich basketball tradition. While Alamo will be making its first-ever state playoff appearance, Cliff has won three state titles, the last two coming back-to-back in 2000 and 2001.
Apachito said he doesn't know much about the Cowgirls.
"All I've heard is that they play a full-court press — pretty much like Magdalena does. We'll have to get ready to break the press," he said.
Asked if he really thought his team could get past Cliff and advance to the state quarterfinals, Apachito said, "If you ask me personally, yeah. On any given day, anybody can play with anybody. We're going to have to take care of the ball, play defense, run our offense and play a smart game."
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