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Deep Field To Vie for Girls' 5A Title

Eldorado, Cibola, Volcano Vista are preseason favorites

The word of the year for the 2011-12 girls basketball season might be this:


“There are a number of teams,” Cibola coach Lori Stephenson said, “that have the ability to be there in March.”

Eldorado has had a couple of top-ranked teams over the last several regular seasons, although the Eagles haven’t yet found a way to get that elusive state championship for coach Mike Huston.

Volcano Vista is super-athletic and a definite threat. Sandia has one of the state’s best players and could emerge. Cleveland has all the pieces in place to threaten throughout the season.

And Cibola’s girls, despite losing one of the best players in the state in Amber Battle, might actually be better equipped to get back to the finals next March than the Cougars were last season, when they fell to Mayfield in the 5A championship game.

Throw in the usual suspects outside of Albuquerque – including Mayfield and especially Hobbs – and the season shapes up as a volatile and unpredictable one.

“We’re all right in the mix,” Sandia coach Susan Kubala said. “The season is long and it is crazy. Night in, night out, any one of those teams could be right up in there. There’s not that much separation.”

The Cougars have been to a pair of title games in the last three seasons (2009 and 2011), and this team has as much talent as anyone in 5A.

Junior post Kassandra Harris and sophomore guard Kim Chapman lead the way for Cibola, which has speed, athleticism and a versatile bench.

“You don’t replace a player like Amber,” Stephenson said, “but I’ve got a much better and deeper team than I had in either of our years as the state runner-up.”

Said Cleveland coach Felicia Boatman: “Cibola is going to be ridiculously good.”

Eldorado was 23-3 last season, and the Eagles are one of the biggest groups in 5A.

“I don’t know that we’re the best team (in 5A),” Huston said with a laugh. “That hasn’t worked out too well for us, anyway.”

Gina Okoye, a 5-9 senior who has signed with Division I Weber State, was last season’s defensive player of the year in the metro area. This team has size with 6-1 Kersten Strong and 6-foot Gemma Biasetto, and the Eagles are fast, led by Okoye. The perimeter game is led by Chelsea Nelson, Christine Martinez and Sarah Mikelsen.

Volcano Vista has arguably the best inside-outside tandem in 6-foot post Schylar Malone and 5-6 guard Emma Fenske. One of the season’s key changes is that the Hawks are moving Fenske from point guard to shooting guard.

“We do have an athletic bunch of girls,” Volcano Vista coach Lisa Villareal said. “It’s hard to predict.”

Sandia senior Elena Velasquez is possibly the best all-around player in 5A. There’s not a position she can’t play, and the Matadors are expecting a huge season from her.

The Matadors also have some veteran guards, led by the much-improved Astrea Reed, as they go up against Eldorado in District 2-5A.

Cleveland coach Felicia Boatman said anything less than a deep run for her team at state “would be unacceptable.”

The Storm features 6-4 post Sara Hattis and has a new transfer from Oklahoma, point guard Karly Peck.

“She’s pretty stinkin’ good,” Boatman said of Peck.

The Storm has quality depth, especially at the guard position, and can shoot the ball.

So who’ll be left standing when it’s all finished?

“Where there used to be three or four teams (that could win state),” Huston said, “now there might be six to eight.”

Elsewhere …

St. Pius’ girls should be much improved and the Sartans return all five starters, but it is possible that 4A has more, better basketball teams than even 5A with the likes of Gallup, Kirtland Central and Roswell.

“Tough for us to break in,” Griego said.

… District 5-5A was won by Valley last season, but the undersized Vikings will face challenges from Rio Grande (led by offensive standout Jocelyn Gamboa) and possibly Highland (led by post Heather Navasie).

… Former Albuquerque High standout and UNM point guard Greg Brown is taking over the girls’ program at Bosque School this season.

… Taryn Bachis got out of coaching a decade ago, but the Albuquerque Academy athletic director will be back on the bench this season for the Chargers.
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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