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Former walk-on Chavez gets a free ride

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Alexa Chavez will shed the walk-on description as a member of the UNM women’s basketball team next season.

Chavez, who earned significant playing time and performed well as a sophomore in 2013-14, has been awarded a scholarship for her junior year, Lobo coach Yvonne Sanchez said Thursday.

UNM’s Alexa Chavez, shown driving vs. Wyoming in a Jan. 8 game in the Pit, started three games last season. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

UNM’s Alexa Chavez, shown driving vs. Wyoming in a Jan. 8 game in the Pit, started three games last season. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

The scholarship came open because forward Lauren Newman will not return to the program for her redshirt-freshman season. A 6-foot-1 player from El Paso, Newman underwent hip surgery prior to last season and did not appear in a game.

“We came to a mutual decision that it would be best for Lauren to be in another situation,” Sanchez said. “She’s got things she needs to take care of, and I felt we needed to go in a different direction. We wish her well.”

Rather than attempting to recruit a replacement, Sanchez opted to look within her own locker room.

“Once I started thinking about it, giving Alexa a scholarship was a pretty easy decision,” Sanchez said. “She earned every bit of it. She did everything we asked of her last year and has done a great job on and off the court.”

Chavez, a 6-0 forward from Santa Fe, appeared in 27 games last season, made three starts and became a fan favorite. She averaged 3.6 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.0 assist per game. She posted a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds against Boise State.

The St. Michael’s graduate said receiving a scholarship came as a welcome surprise.

“I came in for my individual meeting with coach Sanchez,” Chavez said, “and we talked about my game and the things I need to work on. Then she told me she’d seen so much improvement in me and wanted to give me a scholarship. It was the happiest day I’ve had in a long time.”

Chavez said she receives the New Mexico Lottery Scholarship but conceded getting a more-encompassing athletic scholarship will provide a welcome boost.

“This will do so much for my family,” she said. “I’m so grateful to UNM and coach Sanchez. It’s really a blessing.”

Chavez said the scholarship further justifies her decision to bypass full-ride offers at smaller schools to walk on at UNM. She said her Lobo teammates have never treated her or any of the team’s other walk-ons differently, but won’t mind losing the label.

“It’s just kind of a weight off my shoulders,” Chavez said. “I won’t have quite as many things to worry about and can focus on basketball. I still need improvement in every area, especially defense.”

With four incoming freshmen signed and sophomore transfer Tori Henderson becoming eligible at midsemester, UNM has its full allotment of 15 scholarships filled for next season. Post Whitney Johnson will be serving a Mormon mission next season and will not count against the total.

CLUB UPDATE: The New Mexico-Texas Heat Elite, which includes nine high school-age players from New Mexico, recently won the 17U Superstar Division of the adidas 3 Stripes Arizona Spring Classic in the Phoenix area. The Heat defeated the Northwest Blazers, who had players from Washington, Oregon and Idaho, in the championship game of the 29-team division.

The Heat’s New Mexico players are Clovis’ Danni Williams and Shelby Jones; La Cueva’s Alexa Romano and Alyssa Yocky; St. Pius’ Natalie Zamora; Melrose’s Caley Barnard; Cibola’s Kristin Dearth; eighth-grader Amaya Brown; and seventh-grader Brynn Wade.

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