Clovis’ Tori Quintana drives past Moriarty’s Brandi Valencia during the first half of their game earlier this month at Rock Staubus Gymnasium. (CNJ file photo)
By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
The Clovis Lady Wildcats, only a desperation heave from being unbeaten, figure to become even more formidable heading into this week’s third annual Plateau Holiday Classic.
As they prepare to host eight-team tournament beginning today at Rock Staubus Gym, the Lady Cats have been buoyed by the return to eligibility of sophomore guard Ebony Bunton and senior guard Vanessa O’Neal.
“I think we can play a little bit faster (with their return),” Clovis girls coach Miles Watters said. “I know we played a lot of zone (defense) during the first nine games.
“I don’t know if we played a quarter’s worth of zone last year.”
Clovis takes on former District 4-5A rival Eldorado in a 6 p.m. quarterfinal matchup today. The Lady Cats will play in the 6 p.m. game on each of the tournament’s three nights.
On Dec. 13, playing their fourth game in six nights, the Lady Cats had a 36-game winning streak snapped in a 45-40 overtime loss at Levelland, Texas. Trailing the entire game, the Loboettes tied the game with an 8-0 run in the final minute capped by Tana Lockett’s 3-pointer from near halfcourt, then made 9-of-10 free throws in the OT for the win.
With Bunton and O’Neal back, minutes for the Lady Cats should be spread around more.
“We’re excited those two are back,” senior post Brittany Blackmon said. “They’ve been practicing with us every day, so they’ve got a feel for everything. I don’t think it’ll be that difficult for them to get in sync with us.”
Portales brings a 6-4 record into the tournament. The Lady Rams were third in last year’s event, beating Farmington and La Cueva while losing in the semifinals to eventual runnerup Rio Rancho.
“I don’t know much about Ysleta,” Portales coach Brenda Gomez said. “I think they’ll probably be pretty athletic. We’re going to have to play well, but if we do good things will happen.”
Led by seniors Morgan Hill and Megan Kabrick, Portales hasn’t played since beating Moriarty 51-37 on Dec. 17 at home
“We’re going to be a little rusty,” Gomez said. “But I thought we looked tired in our last game against Moriarty.
“It should be fun. Hopefully, we’ll play good, and it’ll be that much more fun.”
Clovis has not played Eldorado since the Lady Eagles (4-5) were in the district two years ago.
Watters said his team has probably exceeded expectations to this point.
“We easily could be 9-0; I’m very pleased with where we’re sitting,” he said. “I honestly felt we might lose three or four games (by this time).
“It’ll be a strong field. La Cueva, Gallup and Portales are quality teams, and Eldorado has a good bunch.”
Blackmon said Gallup, which lost to the Lady Cats 44-40 in the first round of last season’s Class 5A state tournament, should provide a test with 6-foot-7 senior post and University of New Mexico signee Valerie Kast.
“I think it’ll be a pretty competitive tournament,” Blackmon said. “I’m kind of concerned about Gallup because they still have Valerie.”
Plateau Holliday Classic
At Rock Staubus Gym
Gallup vs. Moriarty, 2:30 p.m.
Portales vs. El Paso Ysleta, 9:30 a.m.
La Cueva vs. Farmington, 4 p.m.
Eldorado vs. Clovis, 6 p.m.