Freshman Avaleena Nanaeto started her Ignacio High School athletic career on a whim when she joined the Bobcats’ cross-country team last fall. Little did she know that by the end of her first season in IHS colors, Nanaeto would be a state qualifier and also play a key role on the girls basketball team.
Nanaeto, daughter of Sheila and Travis Nanaeto, has a quiet but humble nature, but her competitive instinct is clear. As a result of her stellar first season for Ignacio, she was named The Durango Herald Girls Underclassman of the Year for the 2018-19 season.
“We’ve got a lot of strong personalities on our team, and I think she likes being the quiet one and is a bit of a surprise player,” said IHS girls basketball head coach Justa Whitt. “You know she’s on the floor and has a major impact on us for her defense, but there were definitely times this year where it was like, all of a sudden if you hadn’t been paying attention, she’d go on a big spurt for us and did that a lot for us this year. She’s going to be a strong, strong force for the next three seasons to come.”
Nanaeto made an instant impact last fall when she was the lone girls state qualifier from Ignacio, or the Pine River Valley, in her first season of competitive cross-country. At the Class 2A state race in November, she finished in 73rd and crossed the line in 24:22.4.
She brought the same intensity to the basketball court, where she was a key contributor for IHS and played stout defense in the post. Despite a new defensive structure, Nanaeto understood her role on the team as a defensive stopper.
“She’s probably one of the most coachable, agreeable kids I’ve ever known,” Whitt said. “You can see the wheels are turning in her head when you tell her to change things up, and it was always a conscious effort from her. She’s a team player, and while she came in a bit timid as a freshman, once she found her place, we saw her gain confidence and she got over those freshman jitters in a hurry. She just puts her heart into it, and it’s the same way about the entire Nanaeto family. They always give it their all, and I’m looking forward to seeing her improve.”
Nanaeto averaged 4.4 points and snagged 3.7 rebounds per game, which was the third-best on the team behind sophomore Shelcie Gosney at 5.6 per game and junior Larissa Gallegos at 3.8 per game. Nanaeto finished her first varsity season with 3.1 steals per game, which was second-best on the team, while she tallied 1.7 assists per game. She developed a steady high-post game in the latter stages of the season.
“It was a really good first season for me,” Nanaeto said. “I enjoyed cross-country and am hopeful that our basketball team can make it back to state.”
For large portions of the season, Nanaeto looked like a veteran presence on the court. Her 10-point performance against Rangely in the Class 2A Region 8 semifinal game was crucial in helping the Bobcats advance.
“Avaleena really turned it on for us,” Whitt said after the Rangely game. “I felt like she was a little rattled in the first half, and I took her out for a minute. The big lights, the big stage, she’s not one who likes to be in the lights, but she is. She came back in and went to work. She’s not playing like a freshman, and I’m very proud of her.”
“I realized that I had a lot of opportunities and was open. I just wanted to step up for my team,” Nanaeto said after the win. “I was kind of nervous there, but I was ready to go in that second half.”
Nanaeto said it was wild to think that last year she was an eighth grader and said that playing at the varsity level as a freshman was a tough transition, but her teammates made it easier.
“I’ve been playing with these girls for a while now, and it helped that the girls on cross-country were also basketball players with me,” Nanaeto said. “They helped ease the transition. By the time basketball season came around, I felt ready to play with varsity.”
Looking toward her sophomore year, she said she wants to qualify for state again in cross-country and is also looking toward her hoops season.”
“I definitely matured more as the year went by,” Nanaeto said. “Moving forward, I want to get better in my basketball game and will also start running again for the cross-country season.”
Editor’s note: The Durango Herald selected high school sports players of the year based on a unanimous decision between sports editor John Livingston and sports writer Brendan Ploen. Increased consideration was given to multi-sport athletes who showed leadership in their communities.