Slowly but surely, the Montezuma-Cortez High School girls basketball team is learning to win against Intermountain League competition.
The Lady Panthers’ latest league victory came at home on Feb. 1, when the team defeated Bayfield, 48-29. The win was especially gratifying given that M-CHS lost to the Wolverines, 53-47 earlier this season.
Among the keys to M-CHS’ victory was a defensive performance that has eluded the Lady Panthers’ in recent seasons. Highlighting that performance was a third quarter during which Bayfield failed to score and M-CHS expanded a 21-17 halftime lead into a 30-17 advantage.
“Our pressure defense was really tough against them,” Lady Panthers’ head coach Tim Robinson said. “Our bigs were actually physical and got boards. That was the difference in the game.”
Also playing a key role in M-CHS’ victory was the inspired play of Malia Begay, who scored a team-high 11 points. The junior’s most impressive sequence came during the first quarter when she scored two breakaway layups and hit a long jump shot from the right wing to give her team a 14-9 advantage.
“My approach tonight was just to push the ball and look for my teammates and have confidence in them,” Begay said. “We did a great job of communicating tonight, and we all played as a team.”
Joining Begay as contributors on the offensive end were sophomore Paige Yarbrough, who scored 9 points, and junior Presley Frost, who scored eight. Six of Frost’s points came in the fourth quarter and proved key in shutting down a potential Bayfield comeback.
As M-CHS pulled away during the second half, fans roared voiced their approval through consistent chants and cheers, and at times, the noise level in the gym seemed deafening. Players took notice, and after the game, Ayanna Silas praised her team’s fans.
“It was pretty intense,” the senior said. “I’ve never had a big crowd like this to play with. It was loud, and it was great.”
One day after squaring off against Bayfield, the Lady Panthers traveled to Alamosa to face off against one of the Intermountain League’s teams and lost, 63-21. With the loss, M-CHS’ record dropped to 6-9 overall and 2-6 in the IML.
In spite of its losing record however, M-CHS has played with increased confidence and has won three of its last five games. Robinson noted his team’s improved play and emphasized that M-CHS is a program on the rise.
Being a first-year coach, (our players) are starting to buy into the system,” Robinson said. “We are holding our composure, and we’re not turning the ball over. When you do that, you’re going to win games. I think we’re on the right path.”
Next up for the Lady Panthers will be a road matchup against Centauri on Feb. 8, which will be followed by a road contest against Monte Vista on Feb. 9.