By George Morse
One of the biggest upsets in the 2019 State Class 4A girls basketball championships came in the opening round when 13th-seeded Española Valley High School knocked off fourth-seeded Pojoaque Valley High School 67-57 at Pojoaque. Following that surprising outcome, the Lady Sundevils pulled off another shocker in the state quarterfinals, beating fifth-seeded Highland High School at The Pit 55-44 to advance to the state semifinals.
“I don’t think anyone expected us to be here,” then-senior guard Kaylee Chavez said in the media interview room after the win over Highland.
Española’s run came to an end against top-seeded Kirtland Central 55-23 in the semifinals. Chavez and then-senior Kaylinn Martinez were two key members of that team that have since graduated. Their three-point shooting and leadership will be missed. The cupboard is not bare.
Head Coach Joe Estrada begins his second season at the helm of the Lady Sundevils with a talented group of juniors who already have varsity experience and know what it’s like to take down a heavily-favored opponent. Point guard Anita DeAguero and guard Miranda Salazar are both coming back. DeAguero handles the ball and Salazar has worked on her shooting touch. Jasmine Baca was first off the bench last season and plays aggressively on defense and offense. Wing Destiny Valdez hit big three-pointers last season. She will spend more time inside the paint for the Sundevils. Christianne Sandoval was moved up from the junior varsity midway through last season and showed no hesitation to throwing in a three-pointer soon after she entered the game.
“I think we’re quicker this year,” Estrada said. “On the offensive end, we’re looking to be more aggressive. More of a dribble-drive offense than a passing one. We have great shooters and we’re looking to attack more to set up our shooters.”
The seemingly-always, height-challenged Sundevils will have junior Kianna Duran returning along with senior Jaylynn Padilla. They’ve added freshmen Kaitlynn Thomas and Rhianna Padilla.
“We’ve gotten a little bigger,” Estrada said.
There is one thing the Lady Sundevils are looking for.
“Leadership,” Estrada said. “Since Kaylee and Kaylinn left, we’ve been kind of searching for that.”
The Sundevils open their season Tuesday against Santa Fe Indian School in Santa Fe. The Lady Braves finished second last season after losing to Robertson High School in the Class 3A state championship game. It will be a tough opening game. Española faces Portales High School Thursday in the opening round of the Capital City Tournament at Santa Fe High School. Española has a tough predistrict schedule with Class 4A state champion Los Lunas High School and Class 4A runner up Kirtland Central High School later this season.
“I’m very hopeful,” Estrada said. “They’re starting to trust each other and I’m trusting them more too. They are starting to believe in what we’re doing.”