With mojo again, Flagstaff ladies prepared for play – Navajo Occasions


The Flagstaff girls’ basketball team got some of its mojo back.

That assessment was expressed by FHS coach Tyrone Johnson, as the Lady Eagles pulled away from Cottonwood Mingus in the second quarter for a 66-37 win last Friday night.

The 29-point victory was coming off the heels of a 42-38 win over city rival Coconino on Jan. 19.

“The Coconino game was our first game of the year,” Johnson said. “Coco had good energy coming out, and we didn’t match their energy. They had a nice pace so, you know, we survived that game.”

Contrary to their game with Coconino, Johnson said his club got back to what they typically do, which is dictate the pace of the game with their speed.

“That was refreshing to see but we still have a long way to go,” he said.

The Eagles trailed 10-8 but three late treys in the opening quarter turned things around for the home team.

Junior Gracelyn Nez got things started with her trifecta, followed by consecutive three-pointers from freshman point guard Alyssa Harris as Flagstaff led 19-14 after one quarter of play.

“I’m still trying to fit in with all the girls but I feel like I’m adjusting pretty good,” said Harris, who came off the bench and scored 10 points.

Behind a balanced attack in the second stanza, the Eagles added to the lead as six different players scored, including five points turned in from senior Melinda Calnimptewa.

The fourth-year varsity player hit a trey as Flagstaff doubled up on Mingus, 32-16, with 3:07 left in the opening half.

“We just have a lot of talent on this team,” said Calnimptewa when asked about the composition of the team. “We have a few freshmen that are adjusting to playing at the varsity level. They’re able to drive the ball in and they can shoot.

“We just have a lot of diverse players that can play inside,” she said, “and they can also shoot the threes so I think that’s very deadly for us.”

In last Friday’s contest, the Eagles made seven such treys but Johnson expressed caution on how many threes they take in a game.

“They like to shoot the threes but there’s a difference between shooting the three and making the three,” he said. “We have to get to the point to where we were making the threes and then we’ll be alright.”

To close out the second half, Flagstaff got a dozen points from sophomore Sage Begay as she led all scorers with 18 points.

“We all played as a team,” Begay said, while noting that they played with more energy on Friday than they did with Coconino.

“I liked our energy,” she said. “We showed that we can be a competitive team because we just have a lot of talent on this team. We just have to help one another and for us it’s all about team play.”

That concept will be especially important as Flagstaff is looking to get back to Final Four round in this abbreviated season as the pandemic has shortened the season to roughly two months.

“Since we made it to the Final Four I think we can go all the way this time and play in the championship game,” Calnimptewa said. “That’s going to be a big order to get past the Final Four but I think we can do that.”

And with 10 returners on this year’s squad that outlook looks promising, says Johnson.

“We want to continue to play at this level,” the FHS coach said. “With the success of last year’s team they understand the work it takes to really emulate that success. Now it’s their turn to step up and show the new girls what we can be about so the younger players can buy into what we’re trying to do.”

In addition to his squad, Johnson believes Coconino and Prescott Valley Bradshaw Mountain should contend for the 4A Grand Canyon Region.

“It’ll be interesting to see where we all finish,” he said. “Coco and Bradshaw Mountain are pretty solid this year.”

Despite the season being delayed nearly two months, Johnson said the team is scheduled to play a full schedule with 18 teams. The only team they won’t play this year in the regular season is 4A favorite Chandler Seton Catholic.

“We have six games against opponents that aren’t in our conference,” Johnson said of their schedule that will include a number of Valley teams.

Moreover, the Eagles have added 3A Holbrook to their schedule as Flagstaff will play the Roadrunners on Saturday in Holbrook.

“Holbrook is typically a quality 3A program,” Johnson said. “And then we have some quality games against some Valley schools. The only team we lost on our original schedule was Seton Catholic.

“It’s always good to play them to get a gauge of where you are at,” he added. “Unfortunately, we won’t get that opportunity this year.”

Nevertheless, Calnimptewa said she’s happy to play those other 4A teams. The FHS senior said those games will help expose some deficiencies they have to work on if they want to get far in the playoffs.

“There’s going to be a lot of competition down that way,” she said, referring to the likes of Paradise Honors, Coronado, Queen Creek American Leadership, Deer Valley and Cortez.

“I think the more times we play those teams the more we’re able to match up and compete with them,” she said. “With what we have I’m real excited about the season. We’ve all been working hard and I can’t wait to see what we can do.”

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