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Lobo women’s hoops: Alexa Chavez goes from walk-on to key performer

Alexa Chavez (11) has worked her way from walk-on to playing a key role for the banged-up Lobos this season. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

Alexa Chavez (11) has worked her way from walk-on to playing a key role for the banged-up Lobos this season. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Alexa Chavez talked her way onto the University of New Mexico women’s basketball roster.

Her time on the court has been earned.

A 6-foot sophomore from Santa Fe, Chavez is playing the lead in a long shot-makes-good story for the Lobos. After spending all but 12 minutes of her freshman season on the bench, Chavez is seeing significant action at post and is making it count.

The St. Michael’s High grad has appeared in each of the Lobos’ last five games and has played well, averaging 4.8 points, 3.6 rebounds and 15.6 minutes of court time. Chavez has also become a Pit favorite, drawing loud ovations whenever she enters a game.

It’s considerably more than UNM coach Yvonne Sanchez envisioned when Chavez called her in the summer of 2012 to inquire about joining the Lobos as a walk-on.

“Honestly, I told her what I tell all our walk-ons,” Sanchez said. “‘You probably won’t play much, you probably won’t travel, and your main job will be to work hard at practice and help the team get better.'”

Chavez was undeterred by the high-work, low-reward prospects.

“Alexa came in and just never stopped working and never stopped improving,” Sanchez said. “Now she’s in a position to help us win basketball games and she’s skilled enough to do it.”

It’s something of a dream scenario for Chavez, who passed on numerous Division II and III offers to walk on at UNM. She had impressive credentials at St. Mike’s – two first- team all-state selections and a Class 3A Player of the Year honor as a senior – but Chavez had a singular goal in mind.

“Growing up and watching games from the stands, I always dreamed of playing for the Lady Lobos,” Chavez said. “I really wanted to be part of this program.”

Chavez made it happen, calling Sanchez several times and finally setting up a meeting to discuss walking on.

“I was kind of nervous,” Chavez said, “but I was really happy when (Sanchez) told me it was an option to walk on. And I was welcomed right away. There was not one day that I felt like a walk-on.”

Sanchez had not seen Chavez play in person but had heard plenty about her versatile game. Still, with several scholarhip posts on UNM’s 2012-13 roster and more recruits on the way, Chavez figured to remain largely a practice player.

Such was largely the case last season – with one exception. Chavez picked up four minutes of playing time in a late-season win over Nevada and turned heads, racking up eight points, three rebounds and a blocked shot.

The performance didn’t lead to many additional minutes, but it did give Chavez confidence and inspiration.

Though she consistently worked hard at practice as a freshman, Chavez has raised her intensity several notches this year. She finishes first in nearly every sprint, battles aggressively on defense and never hesitates to hit the floor in pursuit of loose balls.

“I just felt I needed to push myself,” Chavez said, “because I want it so bad. I came in this year knowing I had to work harder, be stronger and really change my focus.”

Sanchez and her assistant coaches took note and often complimented Chavez’s hard work. However, it took a run of bad Lobo luck to push the sophomore into playing position.

Posts Whitney Johnson (Achilles), Lauren Newman (hip) and Ebony Walker (Achilles) all suffered season-ending injuries. Deeva Vaughn (concussion symptoms) also has missed the past two games, leaving a once deep post rotation dangerously thin.

“It’s such a loss having Lauren, Whitney and Ebony out for the season,” Chavez said. “I know I have big shoes to fill.”

Vaughn is expected to return to the lineup soon, but Sanchez does not anticipate a drop in Chavez’s playing time. The sophomore is now part of the travel squad, which means she’ll be in uniform Monday when UNM visits No. 4 Stanford.

“That’s super exciting,” Chavez said. “Getting a chance to play there against All-Americans will be a great experience. But we can’t be intimidated. We have the potential to be a great team, too.”

Like any Cinderella story, Chavez’s will likely have a few unhappy plot twists. Lobo fans may raise their decibel levels for Chavez, but Sanchez anticipates bringing the sophomore back to earth.

“Alexa’s a local kid who’s worked really hard to earn her minutes,” Sanchez said, “and our fans get that. But I told her, ‘Being part of the rotation also means I’ll probably yell at you a lot more often.'”

Chavez expects nothing less, but she doesn’t plan to be yelled at for lack of effort.

“Scholarship players are going to get their time,” she said, “and I know nothing’s promised. So I have to give my all 24-7, and that’s what I’m going to do.”

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