As the 2019 1A Girls State Basketball Tournament tips off today, February 27, Whitehorse and Monument Valley both begin a journey they hope takes them to rare territory – staying in the big show for all four games.
The Lady Raiders have done it just twice in the last 10 seasons. Monument Valley’s fourth place finish in the 2018 tourney is the only time the Lady Cougars have pulled it off in the last 10 years.
MVHS is poised to build on their strong finish last year. They finished the regular season with a 16-2 overall record, and they won the Region 19 championship for the first time since 2013 with a 9-1 record.
They enter the state tournament ranked fourth in the state. But the tourney is a different animal, and according to Assistant Coach Doug Freed, the most important thing is to take it one game at a time.
“The community is really counting on this team,” he said. “They are very aware that we have a good chance at state.
“Like every coach in the world, I like to play one game at a time and play as hard as you can. We’ve worked really hard on conditioning and [to] get ourselves in a position where we can play four tough games in a row.
A big part of Monument Valley’s success is Head Coach Theresa James, who has coached the same group of girls for the last three seasons. Freed said it is obvious that James is very important in the girls’ lives.
Another contribution to the Lady Cougars’ success is that the girls are simply talented. The team is made up of a standout group of seniors according to Freed. Indeed, Ervianne Cly and Jamika Nelson have both received All-state honors.
Kaylin Bedoni, Jasmine Stanley, Bertilda Goodshield, and Bertilena Atene round out the strongest team in Region 19 this season.
“They’ve played together for a long time, and you can tell,” said Freed. And this is pretty much the same team of girls who finished fourth at the 2018 State Volleyball Tournament.
The Lady Cougars have done an excellent job this season sharing the ball and ultimately getting it under the basket for a lot of points from who they call “The Rock,” Kaylin Bedoni. We can expect more of that at the state tournament.
But Monument Valley is wisely not looking past any opponents. “We are excited to head into the state tournament,” said Freed. “One thing’s for sure, we have an awful lot of respect for all the teams who will be there.”
This team has become a family. “I love the kids,” Freed said. “They are all really good kids – the type you don’t mind spending 10 hours a day on a school bus with.”
As it usually is for Region 19 teams, the Lady Cougars face a challenging road to a state championship.
They open against Valley, the third seed from Region 20, tonight, February 27 at 8:30 p.m. MVHS beat the Lady Buffalos 65-54 at the 1A Preview in November.
If they get past Valley, the girls will likely face the number three-ranked team in the state – Piute – in the state quarterfinals.
Regardless of the state tournament result, the girls will learn important life lessons over the weekend. “Everybody wants to win state championships,” said Coach Freed. “But there’s a whole bunch of learning that goes on that isn’t about that.
“Ultimately coaching is teaching. We’re really proud of our girls. They’re good sports and that’s just as important to me as anything.”
First-year head coach Tiona Grant helmed her Whitehorse girls squad to a third place finish in Region 19 this season. The Lady Raiders were 14-7 overall and 6-4 in region play.
She said the beginning of the year was challenging because her upperclassmen were so accustomed to another system. “They had to get used to me, specifically in the discipline area,” she laughed.
But Grant said she connected well with her girls as the season went along. “I like it. I never knew how much of an adrenaline rush you get from coaching until I coached.
“I like how we’ve reached this point of being a scholar first and then an athlete,” she continued. “My coaching philosophy is that [the girls] excel in their classes first before they even participate in sports.”
Coach Grant said part of the Lady Raiders’ success this season came because the team got back to basic fundamentals, such as positioning, layups, and passing. She also emphasized discipline and communication.
Late in the regular season, Whitehorse was ranked in the top five in the state for 1A girls teams. But they suffered a loss to Monticello and two to Monument Valley headed down the stretch that brought them back down to earth.
Grant said the losses were a walk-up call for the girls. “They were looking too far ahead and just looking to get to state,” she explained.
She said the week-long break leading up to the state tournament was necessary and gave the team a chance to regroup. “Even though we’re at the end of our season, we still have a lot to learn and a lot to touch up on, especially our defense.
“We want to spend the whole week at the state tournament,” Grant pointed out. “Our mentality is just making sure we take it one game at a time and not looking too far ahead like we did at the end of our regular season.”
That requires mental toughness, and Grant is confident her girls are up to the challenge.
“This team has tons of talent and potential. Being able to work with them and help bring that out has been good for me because I knew they had it inside them the whole time.”
Grant explained that she told her girls, “The only way we’re going to move forward is if you become a family together.” She added, “I think they established that this year.”
Whitehorse began their state tournament against the Manila Lady Mustangs today, February 27 at 11:30 a.m. looking for their best finish since capturing fifth place in 2009.