The extremely competitive Nike Tournament of Champions girls basketball tournament took place December 27–30 at Perry, Chandler and Hamilton high schools. The Salt River High School (SRHS) Lady Eagles were invited to play in the tournament for the second time; their first invitation was in 2007 after finishing that season as state runners-up, but they were unable to attend due to a previously scheduled tournament.
Head Coach Shawn Lytle said they were invited this season after claiming the 1A state championship last year. The Lady Eagles were only the second all-Native American school to participate, and Lytle said he believes this shows that at SRHS they are moving forward in leaps and bounds.
“It was very important to our team that we went out and represented the Salt River Indian Community by playing hard and with great sportsmanship. I think we accomplished both of those goals, and people from all over now will know where SRHS is,” he said.
Salt River was defeated in their first game against the eventual Black Division tournament champion, Chaminade Prep of Chatsworth, California, 79-46. Lytle said he believes his team came out a little intimidated at the start of the game.
During the banquet the night before, announcements were made indicating the Nike Tournament of Champions was the top high school girls’ basketball tournament in the world. Chaminade Prep also had two D-1 athletic scholarship prospects who stood 6 feet and taller.
“In the beginning I think we tried to come out and do things too fast instead of just slowing down,” he said. “In the second half I was proud of the girls, because we actually outscored them by one, 31-30,” Lytle said.
With three games remaining for the Lady Eagles, the team gathered after that first game and tried to focus on how they played in the second half. They spoke about coming out the next day and playing with the same intensity. Lytle said, “When you are playing in a tournament that is top tier, you have to come out ready all the time.”
Lytle said going into the tournament he knew it would be very challenging for the team. He told the girls he wanted them to work on a couple of things, and no matter the outcome he would consider them winners.
“I wanted them to play hard and as a team, and play with a lot of pride, while having fun,” he said. “I think we accomplished those goals, and we probably had to play the two toughest teams in the tournament, against Chaminade Prep and Perry.”
SRHS was the first 1A school from Arizona to compete in the Nike Tournament of Champions. Lytle said he was told that SRHS was the smallest school ever to play in the history of the tournament. He also said the smallest school they played had nearly 1,200 students and the biggest school had more than 3,000 students.
“For our team it meant a lot to go out and show that, even though we are a small school, we can go out and play with schools that are much bigger than us,” Lytle said.
In their remaining three games, the Lady Eagles lost to Perry 81-50; they defeated West Campus from Sacramento, California, 45-43; and then fell to Florence in overtime, 53-52.