During the summer, Ignacio High School girls basketball head coach Justa Whitt didn’t really need to be reminded of how excited she already was for, at the time, a long-off start to the 2019-20 girls basketball season.
But while overseeing her squad in Grand Junction at a Colorado Mesa University camp, a chance encounter with Wray counterpart David Reed poured all the gasoline onto a growing fire that she could have wanted.
“Didn’t give away too many secrets,” she laughed Wednesday, noting that her Ignacio Bobcats did not face the Eagles, overtime winners in last season’s Class 2A Region 8 championship contested inside IHS Gymnasium. “We’re not changing a lot of things,” Whitt said. “Just keeping it simple, playing good basketball that’s the plan.”
Denied a trip to the State Championships last winter by a 43-39 margin on their own court, Ignacio went 16-7 last season and couldn’t be better situated, roster-wise, to execute such self-evident scheming. Having lost only guard Kiana Valdez, plus reserve forwards Reyna Cruz, Fernanda Tavares and Rosie Concepcion, Whitt plus assistants Travis Nanaeto and Lauren Moran will have about all components they’ll need to make another postseason run.
“I do have mostly the same team back, only missing really the couple that graduated last year,” Whitt said.
“We really have the core group back, so it’s really just kind of a review. They already know what to expect from me, and I feel like we’ve got a stronger bond.”
Seniors Makayla Howell and Larissa Gallegos will again anchor the frontcourt along with junior Shelcie Gosney and senior Bella Pena, but with the aforementioned backups no longer on the squad, the quartet more or less represents IHS’ height. Fortunately, height really isn’t Ignacio’s game, and hasn’t been for at least a few years.
Speed, however, is in abundance.
With junior guards Ebonee Gomez, Jayden Brunson and Charlize Valdez who pulled off the volleyball and cross-country double in the fall all back in the fold, plus sophomore guards Avaleena Nanaeto and Monika Lucero, Ignacio should be able to run from start to finish, as well as shoot the ball from all angles near and far.
“They really should be fine,” Whitt stated, emphasizing small aspects of the sport such as positioning on rebounds, spacing on offense, and ball-handling as items most likely to be fine-tuned prior to tipping the new season off at the Limon Invitational on Dec. 6.
“They feel like they need to redeem themselves, I think they’re on the right track, and I’m working to keep them on the right track.”
Whitt couldn’t help but grin while mentioning she won’t have a full varsity crew available for instruction until Monday.
“We’ve been doing lots of drills, working on skills to get them all lined out on what we want to do offensively and defensively, but we really can’t hammer all that out until everybody’s there. Then hopefully we can have three good days of practice before we’ve got to leave for Limon.”
An expected season-opener versus Colorado Springs School (14-9 last season) then awaits IHS on Day 1 out in distant Lincoln County, and Whitt indicated a desire to see her tenth-ranked Bobcats challenge No. 1 Limon, a team that made state last year on Day 2 for the tournament title.
“Hopefully we’ll be playing Limon in the championship; that should really be a good test for us like it was last year,” Whitt said. “That kind of gave us a gauge on where we were. (Limon) did lose a couple girls, but they had some coming right up behind them; it should be good competition.”
Ignacio’s pre-holiday itinerary, as presently viewed, will then include a 2A/1A San Juan Basin League opener at Dolores on Dec. 10, and then a home opener versus Kirtland Central which went 27-4 last season and were the NMAA Class 4A runners-up on the 13th.
“Then the following week we go to Cedaredge,” Whitt added “Three good, tough games in a row right before Christmas that should give us a gauge of where we are and where we can get better.”
“We have six away trips, all season, period,” Whitt said. “Seven if you want to count state. So we have a lot of home games opposite of what we had last year. The girls are excited about that, I’m excited about that; it’s an advantage, I feel.”