SHIPROCK – The Shiprock boys basketball team eyes a deep late-season run after demonstrating it can give tougher foes problems on the floor.
Shiprock's quality wins so far include District 1-4A foe Navajo Prep (twice), 4A's Hot Springs, Socorro and Pojoaque Valley, as well as 6A's Piedra Vista.
And despite losing to 4A power Taos and 5A's Farmington in tight, one-possession games, those experiences are further aiding the Chieftains in becoming more battle-tested.
"It helps us in the long run. (We're) able to keep up with them, especially on defense," senior guard Lennard Hoskie said, adding he'd like to see the Chieftains stay fast and active while moving on defense.
Senior guard Arron Lee added those types of games are helping Shiprock better handle the pressure of tougher games and come through on top during those games.
Pushing themselves even more after beating teams that are likely playoff-bound, the Chieftains (16-8, 4-0) cruised their way to their first district title in five years and are well on track to host a first-round 4A state playoff game.
"We want to utilize our experience from those wins, definitely. The bottom line is to get a deep run and continue to do well," coach Chester Atcitty said. "They have the ability to play at that level. It's going to be a tough battle, and I'm hoping that we can build up toward it."
Should Shiprock go even deeper and encounter 4A heavyweights like Bernalillo and Silver, the Chieftains have the prior experience of what it takes to beat some of 4A's better squads.
During this latest stretch, Shiprock has been even more active driving and cutting to the basket rather than depending on outside shots.
"(We're) being aggressive and then making smart decisions as we attack the hoop. Hopefully, we continue to do that as we go along," Atcitty said.
The Chieftains are also more active getting defensive boards and with creating pressure to get key stops. Hoskie said Shiprock is also doing a better job of communicating across the floor to get stops in critical times.
"(We're) getting rebounds and deflecting passes," Hoskie said.
Shiprock's now at a point where it craves more and more experiences of playing against, and ultimately taking down, tougher teams.
"We all want more, knowing we can do more," Lee said. "We felt kind of invincible coming into district, knowing that we could stay with the big teams and beat big teams. We know what we're capable of, so we go at it."
Matt Hollinshead covers sports for the Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.