It was one of the saddest days in Goddard girls’ basketball, as the clock ticked down at The Pit. Leading scorer and consummate team player Bailey Beene had given the game and her team everything she had. She had scored a team-high 36 points to keep the Lady Rockets in the game, but with her fouling out of the game, no one was able to score as they lost to Gallup, 72-60.
When the season began, head coach Jared Neighbors passed the torch to sophomore Alexis Sandoval. She scored seven points in that game against Gallup as a freshman. Her, along with Lana Morley, sister Kelsey Morley and Tanya Ueland would make up the 2019 team.
Coming into this season, no one could have possibly known what these Lady Rockets would accomplish: including coach Neighbors. Joining the aforementioned team from the playoff run would be freshmen, Ericca Cannon, Daci Smith and little-used senior Aliyah Valdez. Sophomores Ambrosia Teasyatwho, Alexis Hoover, Alyssa Linares and junior sisters Sarah and Emily Mathison would join the team that went to The Pit.
Neighbors took a calculated gamble and changed his philosophy — he wanted to have a team that got after other teams. Neighbors wanted to press and get the rebound out and go. He had a team with enough enthusiasm and that was athletic enough to do it. That style of play was enough to surprise other teams early in the season. When the Lady Rockets went to district play, it was a little more physical and it took them a little time to adjust. They figured it out and finished district play, 3-3.
With the youth movement, Neighbors received a warrior in sophomore guard Sandoval. She played with her heart every game whether she was hitting her outside jump shot or not. Sandoval kept looking for ways to win. She would look for an open teammate and hit them with a pass that would lead to an easy basket. She would take a charge and in the game against Highland, she got physical with perhaps District 4-4A Player of the Year in Cailee Crawford on March 6.
What Neighbors could not count on was the rapid development of freshman Ericca Cannon, who gave the team an athletic guard they didn’t have. She is a slasher and able to create her shot going to the basket or pull up from 10 feet in and shoot her jumper.
Freshman guard Daci Smith is the perfect complement to both Sandoval and Cannon. Smith is able to see the game a couple of moves ahead and be in the right place at the right time. She has legitimate three-point range and should only get better the more she develops.
Teasyatwho is just an incredible athlete who hustles and gets loose balls and rebounds. She had a habit of grabbing rebounds and going back up strong to score. Both the Morley sisters added rebounding and senior leadership for the team. They played their roles well. Hoover was a ball hound on defense to go with Ueland. Ueland was usually given the best offensive player to guard and usually shut them down — if not, she slowed them down. Both Mathison sisters will add depth and a winning attitude in their senior year.
Going forward, it will be a two-team race in district, between Goddard and Portales. Portales is like the Lady Rockets in that they’re young with a lot of sophomores coming back — Portales beat Goddard twice during the regular season. The Lady Rams were beaten in the semifinal game by Kirtland Central, 58-48 on Thursday.
The bad news is Goddard will be ranked in the top five teams in preseason 4A polls. They won’t be able to sneak up on other teams as they did this season. They also won’t have shot-blocker Valdez in the middle. People will be ready for them. The good news is this team is ready for prime time competition. The competition just got a little tougher as Los Lunas just beat Kirtland Central to win the 4A title on Friday, 47-33.
Coach Neighbors needs to ask Athletic Director Britt Cooper to schedule the toughest preseason possible. Those games should include Highland, Pojoaque Valley, Los Lunas and Kirtland Central, so the first time they see them, it is not at state.
There are things film does not show, that only live games will. With an offseason of lifting and working on their games — these Lady Rockets are knocking on the door of being a final four team barring injury, complacency and jealousy. The nice part about this team is they’re a fun team to watch. What made this team exciting was their youth, and they just played ball. Together they made each other better.
Together, this team of youth and seniors gave coach Neighbors his best record in six seasons: 22-8.
Sunday, we will look back on Goddard boys.
Sports editor J.T. Keith can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 304, or email@example.com.