Loaded Lady ’Cats expecting an extended season

Ignacio guards Charlize Valdez (12) and Ebonee Gomez (23) defend against Dolores during district-tournament play in Durango last season.
Ignacio guard Avaleena Nanaeto hustles to a loose ball on the floor against Norwood last season. The now-sophomore is expected to again provide the Lady ’Cats with such energetic play.
Ignacio guard Monika Lucero works on ball control prior to a home game last season.
Ignacio forward Larissa Gallegos (11) puts up a tough shot in traffic at Telluride last season. Now a senior, Gallegos’ veteran leadership will be key to IHS’ success.
Joel Priest | Special to the Drum
Joel Priest | Special to the Drum
Joel Priest | Special to the Drum
Joel Priest | Special to the Drum

IHS girls checking in at No. 10 in first 2A poll

During the summer, Justa Whitt didn’t really need to be reminded of how excited she already was for, at the time, a long-off start to the 2019-20 girls’ basketball season.

But while overseeing her squad in Grand Junction at a Colorado Mesa University camp, a chance encounter with Wray counterpart David Reed poured all the gasoline onto a growing fire that she could have wanted.

“Didn’t give away too many secrets,” she laughed this past Wednesday, Nov. 27, noting that her Ignacio Lady Bobcats did not face the Lady Eagles, overtime winners in last season’s 2A-Region VIII championship contested inside IHS Gymnasium. “We’re not changing a lot of things. Just keeping it simple, playing good basketball – that’s the plan.”

Denied a trip to the State Championships last winter by a 43-39 margin on their own court, Ignacio (16-7 overall in ’18-19) couldn’t be better situated, roster-wise, to execute such self-evident scheming. Having lost only guard Kiana Valdez, plus reserve forwards Reyna Cruz, Fernanda Tavares and Rosie Concepcion, Whitt plus assistants, Travis Nanaeto and Lauren Moran will have about all the components they’ll need to make another postseason run.

“I do have mostly the same team back, only missing really the couple that graduated last year,” said Whitt. “We really have the ‘core’ group back, so it’s really just kind of a ‘review.’ They already know what to expect from me, and I feel like we’ve got a stronger bond.”

Seniors Makayla Howell and Larissa Gallegos will again anchor the frontcourt along with junior Shelcie Gosney and senior Bella Pena, but with the aforementioned backups no longer on the squad, the quartet more or less represents IHS’ height. Fortunately, ‘height’ really isn’t Ignacio’s game, and hasn’t been for at least a few years. Speed, however, is in abundance.

And with junior guards Ebonee Gomez, Jayden Brunson and Charlize Valdez – already well-conditioned after pulling off the volleyball/cross-country double in the fall – all back in the fold, plus sophomore guards, Avaleena Nanaeto and Monika Lucero, the Lady ’Cats should be able to run from start to finish, as well as shoot the ball from all angles near and far.

“They really should be fine,” Whitt stated, emphasizing small aspects of the sport such as positioning on rebounds, spacing on offense, and ball-handling as items most likely to be fine-tuned prior to tipping the new season off at the Dec. 6-7 Limon Invitational. “They feel like they need to redeem themselves, I think they’re on the right track, and I’m working to keep them on the right track.”

An expected season-opener versus Colorado Springs School (14-9 last season) then awaits IHS on Day 1 out in distant Lincoln County, and Whitt indicated a desire to see her tenth-ranked [CHSAANow.com Class 2A preseason poll, Nov. 25] Lady ’Cats challenge the No. 1 Lady Badgers (22-3, State qualifiers) on Day 2 for the tourney title.

“Hopefully we’ll be playing Limon in the championship; that should really be a good test for us like it was last year. That kind of gave us a gauge on where we were, you know?”

“They did lose a couple girls, but they had some coming right up behind them; it should be good competition.”

Ignacio’s pre-holiday itinerary, as presently viewed, will then include a 2A/1A San Juan Basin League opener at Dolores (9-12 overall last season) on Dec. 10, then a home opener versus Kirtland, N.M., Central (27-4, NMAA Class 4A State Runner-up) on the 13th.

“Then the following week we go to Cedaredge,” Whitt added, of a difficult (the Lady Bruins went 18-6 last season, reaching the Class 3A State Tournament’s ‘Sweet 16’) Dec. 21 venture. “Three good, tough games in a row, right before Christmas, that should give us a gauge of where we are … and where we can get better.”

“We have six away trips, period, all season. Seven if you want to count State,” she noted. “So we have a lot of home games … opposite of what we had last year. The girls are excited about that, I’m excited about that; it’s an advantage, I feel.”

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