Demonettes get their first shot at payback

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What amounts to the preseason comes to an end for the defending Class 4A state champion girls basketball team at Santa Fe High School.

And now comes the tough part.

Thrown to the cougars, hawks and rams, the Demonettes will try to accomplish something none of their fall sports brethren were able to manage: winning a District 1-6A game.

They and their boys school mates get their first shot at some payback beginning Tuesday against Rio Rancho, with the girls at home and the boys on the road.

“We talk about it all the time, we even get told that a lot,” said point guard Savina Padilla. “A lot of the coaches from the other (fall) teams tell us. ‘You guys need to prove something out there. We need to prove something to them, so give it to them.’ A lot of fans and students look to us.”

It certainly will be no easy task as the district is home to the defending 5A champ in Volcano Vista and the top-ranked team this season in Cibola. But Santa Fe’s first two tests will be against the Rams and Cleveland, both of which are under .500 so far this season.

“This is a big step for us,” coach Elmer Chavez said. “I think we can compete in this district and we’re real excited for that chance.”

Injuries have bogged the Demonettes down this season with the summertime loss of DI signee Sabrina Lozada-Cabbage and an early-season high-ankle sprain to high-scoring wing Kayla Herrera, who is still rounding back into form.

It’s caused Chavez to dramatically alter Santa Fe’s style of play, getting away from the full-tilt, run-and-gun mantra to a more sedate, defensive-oriented game plan. That also will better help the Demonettes contend with the more athletic rosters the team will encounter, he said.

“We’re a little bit undersized but I think we’ll be very good,” Chavez said. “Almost all teams have a DI player in 6A,” he said. “We lost our DI player. But I think the rest of the players are playing more of a team game, playing more as a unit. We need to pass more, play defense and share the ball.”

Although Lozada-Cabbage is progressing well and she’s getting some practice reps with the team, Chavez said he has no intentions of playing her so he doesn’t jeopardize her college chances at Wichita State.

But Herrera has signed with Fort Lewis in Durango, Colo., and was carrying a large portion of the scoring load before her injury.

Taking that step up in competition is getting her competitive spirit flowing, she said.

“This being my senior year, I’m really excited for some new competition,” Herrera said. “Sure I’m going to miss old district teams like Los Alamos and Española (Valley), but I’m looking forward to playing new teams with new players and new skills.”

Herrera, who also played volleyball, said the team’s inability to win any matches during the district season is definitely a driving force to make up for it now.

“That’s kind of the goal right now,” she said. “I came out of volleyball season not being able to take a game from any of our district matches and that was disappointing.”

But the Demonettes know they are capable of getting the job done in hoops.

“It’s going to be tough at times, it’s going to be difficult when we plays teams like Cibola, who have so much quickness, Herrera said. “But each player on our team is really coming around. I would say we’re more excited than nervous. I think we have a good shot at competing at this new level.”

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Santa Fe High’s Savina Padilla practices with her team Wednesday as they prepare for the start of district play. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

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