CHS GIRLS BASKETBALL: Lady Cats begin 5A state bid

Senior guard Tori Northcutt, right, and the Clovis High Lady Wildcats hope to make a deep run in the Class 5A state tournament. (CNJ staff photo: Andy DeLisle)

By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer

Like most coaches, Miles Watters is skeptical when he faces a team with an unimposing record.

That’s certainly the case tonight when Clovis High’s girls, seeded second in the Class 5A state tournament, take on Manzano (6-19) in a 7 p.m. tipoff at Rock Staubus Gym.

“They’re a little scary,” said Watters, whose team is 19-5 and has won 10 in a row. “They’ve played some good teams to close losses.”

First-year Monarchs coach Nick Salazar said he’s trying to get the program’s mentality turned around. Manzano has lost nine games by seven points or less.

“We’ve played with some teams; we just couldn’t get over the hump,” Salazar said. “There’s probably not a whole lot of people outside our gym who believe we can compete (tonight), let alone win.”

He knows it’ll take a big effort from a team whose longest previous road trip this season was to Los Lunas.

“We’re going to have to limit our turnovers and try to play at a tempo where we’re comfortable,” Salazar said. “We’ve got to do what we do best (on offense); defensively, we’ve got to find ways to make them uncomfortable.”

The Lady Cats, hit hard by graduation after last season, are a different bunch than they’ve been in recent years. Senior Tori Northcutt and junior Ebony Bunton were starters on the unbeaten 2005 state championship squad, and now are the leaders.

“I think we can do good as long as we work hard,” Bunton said. “I think we can take it all the way to the state championship.

“If we do what we’re supposed to do, hopefully we’ll get there.”

Bunton said despite the graduation losses, she thought the Lady Cats would do well.

“Last summer, I knew we’d be a really good team,” she said. “I knew we could get here.”

Tonight’s winner advances to a 9:45 a.m. quarterfinal game on Tuesday against either Los Lunas or La Cueva at The Pit in Albuquerque. But Watters doesn’t want his team looking ahead.

One of the keys tonight, he said, will be to pressure Manzano’s guards and try to create turnovers.

“They’re a team that we definitely won’t take lightly,” he said. “It would be silly to take any team lightly this time of year. Hopefully, we can come out and just play aggressive.”

Manzano at Clovis
7 p.m. today
Manzano 6-19, Clovis 19-5
Coaches: Manzano, Nick Salazar, 1st year; Clovis, Miles Watters, 6th year.
Notes: The teams haven’t played since the Monarchs were in District 4-5A several years ago. … Manzano lost to Highland 55-54 on a buzzer-beater last week in the District 5-5A tournament finals. Manzano came into the five-team event seeded third, while Highland was fifth. … The Monarch’s leading scorer is 5-9 senior G Lyndsi Polosky (10.5 ppg). Salazar said 5-10 senior C Natalie Arvizu is “a good athlete” who was Class 5A all-state in volleyball and likely will play in that sport in college at the Division I level. … Salazar said that, to the best of his knowledge, this is Manzano’s first trip to state in at least 10 years.

— Compiled by Dave Wagner