After two consecutive trips to the Arizona Interscholastic Association Conference 2A postseason semifinals, the Sedona Red Rock High School girls basketball team earned recognition early in the 2017-18 season.
The AIA released its first poll of the season on Dec. 18, with the Scorpions debuting at No. 3, behind No. 1 Leading Edge Academy — Gilbert, last year’s runner-up, and No. 2 Valley Sanders High School, the defending champion.
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“I like being up there but I don’t like having that target on our back,” Scorpions head coach Dave Moncibaez said. “The last two years we were kind of being silent.”
Aside from being the team’s highest ranking over the last three seasons — last year’s top ranking came at No. 6 — it also takes away from something the team had each of the last two years: The element of surprise.
What is more is that two pillars from those two state tournament final four runs, forwards Sophia Perry and Hannah Ringel have graduated.
“[The pressure is] definitely a little more nerve- wracking because before [opponents] didn’t really know what to expect and now they do,” senior guard Jo Toscano said. “We don’t have as much height this year, so it’ll be a little more challenging.”
There almost was no season either, with a number of players from last year’s team not returning, leaving Moncibaez unsure of the team’s future.
Five players who were key to last season’s run carry over to this year: Seniors Brittany Medel, Liza Westervelt, Chenoa Crans and Toscano as well as sophomore Mary Westervelt. Crans’ ability to play is limited by a nagging hip injury.
“We’re getting there, as in chemistry wise we’re a little bit off, but we’re not far off,” Monicbaez said. “Hopefully over the break and come the new year it all starts coming together.”
So far, the team carries a 3-0 record in power-point games and 8-1 overall, the lone loss coming at the hands of 5A Betty H. Fairfax High School in the championship game of the seventh annual Red Rock Hoops Classic.
However, the average margin of victory across the power-point games is 25.3 points. Moncibaez said that he felt that the team’s schedule is not the most challenging, and begins Central Region play on Jan. 2 at Paradise Honors High School.
The biggest threat to the team’s bid for a second straight region title is No. 6 Camp Verde High School.
The biggest difference, though, is that teams now know about the Scorpions this season, whereas before they were able to take some teams by surprise, Moncibaez said.
“We kind of got away with the element of surprise with some teams the last few years with how well these girls play,” Moncibaez said. “Now people really know.”
Regardless of the changes surrounding the roster and newfound recognition, he believes that the players’ focus remains unchanged. The team was in foul trouble and down 10 points at halftime of its game at Payson High School on Dec. 10, but completed the comeback victory.
Pulling that off was important for their mentality, proving to themselves that they are capable.
“It gave us a gut check, being down and behind. Getting through that game, I think that could be a momentum shifter for us,” Moncibaez said.