Clovis’ Tori Northcutt, left, and Alamogordo’s Shirece Johnson battle for a rebound during the first half of their game Saturday in the Purple Pepper Classic at Rock Staubus Gymnasium. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)
By Eric Butler: CNJ correspondent
The girls basketball picture in District 4-5A is a bit like a major college basketball conference come tourney time: a couple of teams considered shoo-ins and a whole bunch of others on the bubble with sparkling records.
But this is high school and, for this year anyway, only two teams will advance into the postseason. And it’ll be an elimination process, not a selection committee, that gets the job done.
The Cavegirls have a sparkling pre-district record, but coach Steve Garza has been in this position before. Two years ago, Carlsbad was unbeaten before the games that really mattered and struggled in district play.
Despite the lofty win-loss mark, Carlsbad may actually struggle to even win a contest in 4-5A. Though the Cavegirls do own a season-opening victory over Class 3A power Portales, Carlsbad was dumped badly (73-28) by Rio Rancho in the Clovis tourney.
Guard Carolyn Smith, with her 3-point shooting, is the Cavegirls’ best weapon. But Carlsbad could have used the return of senior Katie Hellebust, sidelined for a third-straight year by a knee injury.
Cougars coach Doug Dorame is closing in on 300 career victories, but could run into trouble getting the four more wins necessary in this district — despite a solid cadre of senior backcourt players. Nikohl Martinez (15 points per game), Holli Ward (12 ppg) and Stephanie
Vallejos (10 ppg) are at the heart of the Cibola offensive attack as Dorame looks to develop 6-foot-2 sophomore Kara Bible in the middle.
Samantha Pourier, a 5-9 senior, meanwhile is the Cougars more consistent inside threat.
“I think four of our (district’s) teams could get into the final eight. Honestly, I really do,” Dorame said. “I look at the other districts and I think that we would be real competitive in those districts.”
There’s no question that the post-playing duo of Brittany Blackmon and Aimee Hilburn are the prime reasons Clovis is undefeated. Blackmon, despite a size of only 5-10, has unusual tenacity and skill near the basket.
Hilburn, at 6-0, has the versatility to be effective inside or outside — or even via mid-range jumpers.
But the Wildcats are strong at every position with quality reserves at most, which makes the team the district favorite going in. Junior Tori Quintana, senior Melissa Roberts and sophomore Tori Northcutt round out the starting five for Clovis while freshman Ebony Bunton leads the group off the bench.
The beginning of the 4-5A schedule is the most difficult for Clovis, which plays at Sandia on Friday and Hobbs on Tuesday.
“The two toughest ones off the bat,” Clovis coach Miles Watters said. “You wouldn’t be completely devastated if you lost them both, but youíd be in great shape if you won them both.”
Just two years removed from a state title, the Eagles are now almost a completely new cast of characters. Only 5-foot, 9-inch senior Nikki Mahan, who is struggling with injuries, is a familiar name from that 2002-03 crew.
Hobbs is led this year by junior post player Ashley Jackson, who is averaging 13.4 points a game as well as 7.9 rebounds. The Eagles also get solid contributions inside from sophomore Chelsea Bengel, who scores 7.8 points and grabs 7.0 boards a game.
In the backcourt, Emily Holmes and Selena Florez are the primary Hobbs players.
“We’ve been pretty inconsistent,” Hobbs coach Johnny Casaus said. “We usually play one good half and then we don’t play the next half.”
Besides Clovis, Sandia is the top pick for one of the two playoff spots out of 4-5A. But the Matadors have been living a nomad-like existence over the first part of the season having not even played a home game yet this season — thanks to flood damage in the main Sandia gym.
Sandia will get that long-awaited home court advantage, at last, when it hosts the Wildcats on Friday.
Like Clovis and Hobbs, Sandia is young. Junior Angelina Dennison at forward is a good ball handler and possibly the Matadors best player while sophomore Kendra Coveal is an athletic component at another forward position.
Matadors’ point guard Martina Holloway, a junior, has been a mainstay for Sandia the last two years. But Holloway missed two games recently because of an undetermined stomach ailment.
Ashley Vigil, another junior, often starts at the other guard position for the Matadors and has moved over to point during Holloway’s recent absence.