Dreams do come true. Just ask the Salt River High School Lady Eagles basketball team, winners of the coveted Class 1A State Basketball Championship. Showcasing the hard work and perseverance they have demonstrated all season, the team defeated Gila Bend on February 20, and the news spread quickly. Late on Saturday, Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community President Diane Enos sent an announcement to all tribal government e-mail users announcing the Lady Eagles’ victory.
On Wednesday, February 24, a parade was held to honor and acknowledge the young ladies for their achievement. The parade began at Salt River High School and ended at the SRPMIC Tribal Council Chambers, where the new champions were introduced and acknowledged by the Tribal Council.
During the presentation, SRPMIC Vice-President Martin Harvier praised the team for their accomplishment. He recalled that when he attended the semifinals last year, he saw tears when the girls lost and were out of the tournament. “I was happy to see the game this year and see tears of joy,” he said.
This is the first time in Salt River High School history that one of its teams has won an AIA state championship.
The Road to Victory
The Lady Eagles played in the first round of the 1A East Regionals on February 2, at home against the Bowie/San Simon Cougars. They won that game 82-19 and moved on to the 1A East Semifinals.
During the game, all of the players wore pink clothing, such as socks or ribbons, to show support for the fight against breast cancer. They also raised funds that will be donated to the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Kay Yow/WBCA Cancer Fund.
In 1A East semifinals on February 5 at Eastern Arizona College in Thatcher, the Lady Eagles met up with the Duncan High School Wildkats. This was a hard-fought victory (final score 65-38) that sent the Lady Eagles to the 1A East Region Championship game against Fort Thomas.
In front of a raucous crowd of Fort Thomas supporters on February 6, the Lady Eagles were able to pull out a close three-point win, 51-48. This win gave the Lady Eagles the No. 1 seed in the East Region, meaning they would face the No. 4 seed of the North Region the next Friday in the first round of the 1A State Championships at Bradshaw Mountain High School.
Lady Eagles vs. Grand Canyon Phantoms
Students, parents and teachers boarded the SRHS fan buses on Friday, February 12 to show their support for the Lady Eagles at Prescott Valley’s Bradshaw Mountain High School. In the first round, the Lady Eagles played against the Grand Canyon Phantoms.
During the first quarter of the game, Lady Eagle Mikki Ramirez went back and forth with Monique “Mo” Newton scoring points and getting ahead of the Phantoms. Both girls had major roles on the team and succeeded when they needed to, as did teammates Kelcie Manuel and Dashia Enos.
By the third quarter, Ramirez added some nice turnaround moves to get to the basket. With the help of her teammates Mo Newton, Blossom Wood, Gabby Ramirez and Britney Hanna, she made a couple of three-pointers. The girls gained confidence and soon had the upper hand, leading 48-25.
The Phantoms rallied back to score another 12 points and come within reach of the Lady Eagles, but they were held back with a final score of 54-40. With the win, the Lady Eagles moved on to the next round of the state championship bracket.
The team stayed on to watch their next-day opponents, the Valley Lutheran Flames of Phoenix.
The next day the Lady Eagles took on the 1A West Division Valley Lutheran team in the state quarterfinals and walked away with a win, 70-56. With the win, this meant they could move on to the state semifinals, where they were slated to play the Seligman Antelopes at Tim’s Toyota Center in Prescott Valley.
February 19 Semifinals: Seligman Antelopes
On February 19, Salt River matched up against the Seligman Antelopes, and got a quick start right from the opening quarter. The Lady Eagles were keeping up the good work making baskets, when out of nowhere the Antelopes tied the game 27-27. After that the Lady Eagles had to think fast before the Antelopes got ahead and started scoring points almost back to back. Sisters Mikki and Gabby Ramirez gave an excellent show, along with Mo Newton, putting all their skills to work. By the fourth quarter, the Lady Eagles were six points ahead of Seligman, and soon they added another six points; by the end of the game, the score was 59-47. Fans were glad that this meant another trip on the fan buses the following day to Prescott Valley and the state championship game.
State Finals Against Gila Bend
After taking down Seligman, the Lady Eagles finally made it to the 1A State Championship game against the Gila Bend Monsters, played on February 20 at Tim’s Toyota Center in Prescott Valley. This game would be a rematch of two games played earlier in the season between these two heavyweight teams, with each team winning once. The Lady Eagles’ starting lineup scored baskets right away and were able to stay in the lead most of the game. The Monsters fought back, catching up a bit in the second quarter. But once they started to score on the Lady Eagles, Salt River turned their defense up a couple of notches.
“We had a game plan and the girls knew to execute it to the fullest,” said Salt River High School Athletic Director/Girls Basketball Head Coach Shawn Lytle.
Because these teams had met twice during the season, they pretty much knew how to beat each other. The Lady Eagles were able to stay ahead by 10 by the end of the third quarter, with Gila Bend at 35 points and Salt River 45. Then the Lady Eagles scored another six points.
Highlights included a play by Lady Eagle Mo Newton, who dribbled the ball and faked a turn as she went head-to-head with Gila Bend senior guard Ashley Wirtzberger. Wirtzberger’s feet got tripped up as Newton faked the turn and took the ball to the rim. The audience stood up and applauded Newton’s skills. Salt River Senior Dashia Enos made her own highlight as she scored a three-pointer in the third quarter; the 5’2” player was able to rebound a few times as Gila Bend tried to recover the ball. Blossom Wood started off with a little foul trouble but was soon able to get her game back and guard Gila Bend players, keeping them from being able to score more points.
The Monsters did not show any weakness as they continued to score as well, fighting for the championship trophy as the end of the game got closer and closer. With only a few seconds remaining, the Lady Eagles were at 66 points and the Gila Bend Monsters at 51. With the ball in their possession, the Lady Eagles ran out the clock. As the seconds counted down, the Salt River fans began to cheer, and the Lady Eagles tossed the ball one last time before the buzzer. The final score was 66-51, and the Lady Eagles made school history by winning the Class 1A State Basketball Championship.
Coach Lytle told the girls they really needed to step up their defense on the court, and in the end they did that perfectly. “We said in the beginning of the season that this was our goal, and the girls worked hard all year for this. They really deserve this and all the praise that comes with it,” said Lytle. “Some of the girls’ success comes from the players on the team last year; their experience really helped the team in 2010.” All in all, the team worked together as one to bring home the championship title to Salt River.
Mo Newton finished the game with 13 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists and six steals. Mikki Ramirez finished with 14 points and six rebounds, and Britney Hanna logged 13 points and 17 rebounds. All three were named to the 1A State All-Tournament Team.
The Arizona Interscholastic Association presented the championship trophy to the Lady Eagles of Salt River. As is the tradition, after the game the girls cut down the basketball net as a souvenir of their memorable victory.
Comments on the Win
Kim Manuel, a fan and mother of Lady Eagles player Kelcie Manuel, said she was very proud of the team that she had watched and cheered for since the beginning of the season. Manuel cheered for the Lady Eagles and her daughter throughout the championship game. When the game was almost over, she was one of many mothers who started to cry tears of joy.
“It’s been a long journey for the Lady Eagles,” said Manuel. “They worked so hard to get to the state championship finals. This means a lot to all of us, and especially to the seniors on the team.”
Senior Forward Britney Hanna said she wanted the championship trophy so bad and worked very hard to get here. “We worked all year long, and we took it,” she said.
“I took this very seriously,” said senior point guard Mo Newton. “Every summer I was out there playing in summer camps and practices, and since this was my senior year I had to make it happen.” Newton has been playing basketball since she started walking and played in basketball leagues in the Community for years.
For senior Dashia Enos, winning the championship was the greatest feeling of all. “It’s as if I am standing on top of the world. I have been on the team for two years, and last year we got so close and made it to the final four. This year we are finally the 1A State Champions.”