Grady’s Brittany Bailey wrestles for the ball with Desert Academy’s Theresa Wittman during the Lady Broncho’s 75-25 win on Friday at home. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)
By John Eisel: CNJ sports writer
Before the regional championship games, Grady coach Alicia Rush considered then-undefeated Fort Sumner as the favorite to win the girls Class 1A state championship.
She’s wavering a little after three-time defending state champion Des Moines hammered Fort Sumner 60-41 in the Region A title game.
“I don’t know that there is a favorite,” said Rush, whose team will be making their sixth state tournament appearance in the last seven years today against Cliff.
Now she sees Magdalena, Fort Sumner, Des Moines and her Lady Bronchos as the main title contenders.
“Any of the four could take it,” she said.
Fort Sumner coach Brian Fortner pegged Des Moines as the favorite.
“After what Des Moines did to us, I’d have to say Des Moines, but I’d say we’re still capable of winning it, more than capable,” he said.
However, the Lady Demons (26-2) appear to have the easier road to a fourth straight title as Fort Sumner, Magdalena, Grady and Cliff, which have a combined record of 98-14, are on the opposite side of the bracket.
“It’s definitely the tougher side,” said Fortner, whose team drew Magdalena (27-1) in the first round.
“Oh absolutely,” Rush agreed.
Fort Sumner and Magdalena like to press and trap and run on offense when possible, although the Vixens have a height advantage.
“They’re a lot like us,” Fortner said of Magdalena. “We’re like mirror teams.”
Second-year Magdalena coach Wally Sanchez said his team is deep with tireless workers.
The winner of Fort Sumner-Magdalena faces the winner of Grady and Cliff, which played in the first round of last year’s state tournament with the Lady Bronchos winning 51-34.
With last year’s large victory, Rush said she was worried her team may be too confident.
“We definitely cannot overlook Cliff,” she said. “They’re always going to be tough and you can’t count them out.”
Cliff won state titles in 2000 and 2001.
Cliff coach Clay Means said his team lost all its starters from last year, three because of knee injuries.
Cliff will have the height advantage over Grady with senior Lacey Wetzel and sophomore Tristen Finch, who are both 5-foot-11 and average 14 points per game. However, Cliff had the height advantage last year as well, but Means said the Lady Bronchos countered with physical play.
Rush said Cliff runs a motion offense that utilize plenty of screens.
“You have to recognize the pattern,” Rush said. “You have to play heads up.”