Lady Sundevils Pick Up First Victory

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Española’s Kaylee Chavez dishes off to Kaylinn Martinez for an easy basket. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

Lady Sundevils Pick Up First Victory

By George Morse Sports and Outdoors

The Española Valley High School girls basketball team picked up its first victory of the season and Johnny Abeyta picked up his first win as head coach of the Lady Sundevils with a 41-23 victory over Taos High School Nov. 28 at Española. Española improved to 1-1 on the season

“We’ll use this victory as a stepping stone,” Coach Abeyta said. “Get a little better and a little better each game. Eventually it will be our turn. We’re not near the team we’re going to be at the end of the season.”

Española Coach Johnny Abeyta directs his team from the sideline in their 41-23 victory over Taos. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

The Sundevils are in a rebuilding year. Only one player returns (junior guard Kaylee Chavez) who saw more than token playing time last season. The core of six seniors, including four starters that led Española to within a point of advancing to the Class 5A state championship game last season, has graduated.

“This is the first year most of them have played at the varsity level,” Coach Abeyta said. “It’s a learning experience for all of us.”

One of the hallmarks of Coach Abeyta’s teams while he was at Santa Fe Indian School, where he led the eighth-seeded Lady Braves to a state championship in 2005, was pressure on defense and outside shooting. The Sundevils displayed both early in the game, forcing turnovers and draining outside shots for an early 8-0 lead that included two three-pointers. Española led 11-2 at the end of the first quarter.

Española‘s Anita DeAguero protects the ball from a Taos defender. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

The outside shots weren’t falling for Española in the second quarter and Taos cut the lead to 11-6. Española was able to get some production inside from their post players. A couple of baskets by Dulce Maldonado finished off a 6-0 run that gave the Sundevils a 17-6 lead. Española led 17-7 at halftime.

“We’re trying to work to balance our inside game with our outside game,” Coach Abeyta said. “We’re really young at the post position.”

Taos made a little run at the beginning of the third quarter thanks to a four-point play by Aaliyah Quintana that made the score 17-12. Española came back with a 7-0 run that started with a basket by Kaylinn Martinez off an assist by Chavez. Destiny Valdez followed with a three-pointer. A steal and layup by Miranda Salazar made the score 24-12 in favor of the Sundevils. Española led 28-12 at the end of the third quarter.

Española’s Destiny Valdez puts up a three-pointer against Taos. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

Another hallmark of Abeyta’s teams is to spread the floor and look for backdoor or baseline layups. After a three-pointer by Chavez made the score 31-15, that’s what Española did. The Sundevils are learning their lessons. Martinez, Maldonado and Jasmine Baca were able to get open down low and score for Espanola. That kept the Lady Tigers at bay and Española took a 41-23 victory.

“We’re trying to instill a pressure mentality and an uptempo game,” Coach Abeyta said. “Then, discipline themselves to look for a good shot. I’m proud of the girls. They played hard.”

Española faced Goddard High School of Roswell in the opening round of the Al Armendariz Tournament at Capital High School Nov. 30 in Santa Fe. The Sundevils battled the Lady Rockets throughout the game and never trailed by double digits in the second half. Española got close but couldn’t catch Goddard in a 43-39 loss. The Sundevils would face either Aztec High School or Santa Fe High School in the semifinals Friday (12/1) at Capital.