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Shiprock girls basketball coach Larenson Henderson poses for a portrait with players Taylor Henderson, left, Arantxa Curley and Rayette Soto on Thursday at the Chieftain Pit.
SHIPROCK — A new coach and a roster full of talent has already sparked excitement in Shiprock for the upcoming girls basketball season.
The Lady Chieftains haven't won a state title in a decade, but Shiprock fans believe first-year head coach Larenson Henderson may be the man to get the team past Cindy Roybal's dominant Santa Fe Indian School team.
“I am pretty excited about our team. I just don't want to say too much before the season gets going because I would rather see the results on the court,” Henderson said. “I don't know what has happened with everything here in the past, but there is a lot of energy right now and everyone is very excited.”
Henderson joined Shiprock after coaching on Kevin Holman's staff the last two years with the 4A state champion Kirtland Central Lady Broncos.
Joining the coach in the move from Kirtland back to Shiprock is his daughter, Taylor, who is the top point guard in San Juan County.
With state championship experience and unmatched skills with the ball in her hands, Taylor Henderson will make the Lady Chieftains a legitimate threat in this year's state tournament.
“Everyone is excited for Taylor's homecoming. It is something she has wanted since she was an eighth grader but wasn't allowed the chance,” Larenson Henderson said of his daughter. “For her to finally be able to play here at Shiprock, her home, she is very excited about it.


Taylor Henderson will be the general on the court for Shiprock, but she is joined by a group of very experienced upperclassman who have had their own share of early success.
Rayette Soto, Chiashonya Nelson and Samantha Natonabah lead the group of seniors while juniors Ashley John, Shania Harry and Arantxa Curley all earned team captain status.
“There is something about some of these seniors. Some I was going to cut early, but I wanted to see what they had. I found out they can hold their own and I have been able to keep seven of them,” Larenson Henderson said. “The thing about winning at the state tournament is you have to have a lot of positive relationships with each other. The girls have personality and a hard work ethic, and that is what has me excited. Our chemistry is starting to grow. We have to click in March, but I have already seen early signs of maturity. They are buying into the system we have brought to the table.”
What is also encouraging is the talent coming from the younger players in Shiprock, Larenson Henderson said.
“The younger programs are excited to play. The thing I tell people is, anyone can make it to varsity if they show it in practice,” he said. “There is pressure on the upperclassmen because there is nothing saying a younger player can't come up and take their spot. All of the players are on their toes because there is so much talent here. We could fumble a lot of players around to mesh well together.”
Shiprock opens its season with a big road test at Gallup on Saturday night, and Larenson Henderson hopes to prove that this year's Lady Chieftains have only improved since the team lost at Gallup 51-49 last Dec. 13 while finishing 17-11 overall. The 2011 Lady Chiefs were District 1-3A champions but fell short in the first round of the state tournament.
“Hopefully everything will be different this year. It is pretty exciting to open our season in Gallup's atmosphere,” Henderson said.
Larenson Henderson is excited to coach his first game at the Chieftain Pit, and he expects this year's team to give the community a lot to cheer for.
“Watching the girls execute plays in practice is exciting. I thought our team would be small, but I am surprised about some of our post players and the quick forwards who can go off the dribble or play the post just as strong on both ends of the court,” he said. “We have a lot of guards we can't complain about, and everyone can rebound. The girls are going to be very alive and swift on their feet. The chemistry is there and I can't wait to see what happens. I don't want to eat my own words, but I played basketball and I can't wait to watch a team like this.”

Kirtland Central

Head Coach: Kevin Holman, 3rd year
Last Season: 28-5, 1st in District 1-4A, 4A state champions
Key Returners: Taylor Billey, Keeshawna Ockerman, Latricia Pinto
New Additions: Andrea Marris, Shamika Benally, Orquedia Reyes, Jennifer Hastings
Season Outlook: “Losing Taylor Henderson to Shiprock was big. She was probably the best returning player in District 1-4A. Andrea Marris joins us from Oklahoma and she will be a big part of the group along with a whole bunch of younger kids. All of the teams in our district lost a lot of players from last year, and I won't be surprised if it is us and Piedra Vista fighting for the district title again. We have already had it handed to us by Espanola last week, and I look at them, Miyamura and Santa Fe as some of the top teams in the state returning the most players. We only have one player coming back who saw significant minutes from last year, Taylor Billey, and we aren't getting Meona Feather back this year. It definitely hurts, but we will go with the girls that are here. We are working hard and know what is in front of us. The girls know the challenge that comes with being a Kirtland Central girls basketball player.” — Holman.

Piedra Vista
Head Coach: Mike Christie, 5th year
Last Season: 22-9, 2nd in District 1-4A, Eliminated in third round of state tournament
Key Returners: Kaleigh Graham, Kelseigh Simpson, Coah Charley
New Additions: Claudia Charles, Jacklyn Smith
Season Outlook: “I think District 1-4A is going to be pretty tight this year. Farmington is even younger than us and Kirtland Central, and I think it is going to be a struggle for awhile for us. We have made a lot of strides in the summer to put ourselves in a position to be successful after losing eight seniors from last year. We are starting all over, but we are shooting well so I think we will be okay in the end. The problem is nobody has been on the court in key situations, yet. We see Espanola first this week at the Santa Fe Indian School tournament, and after seeing what they did to Holman's group, they must be pretty darn good. If we can win, it will be a huge confidence booster for the rest of the season. I think Kirtland will catch on in the end. Statewide, 4A girls are down this year. If we keep improving, we have the ability to do big things.” — Christie

Head Coach: Mike Switch, 3rd year
Last Season: 15-12, 3rd in District 1-4A, Eliminated first round of state tournament
Key Returners:Marisa Kakos
New Additions: Shayna Carlowe, Meeya Yazzie
Season Outlook: “We have girls with good work ethic who are coachable. They all just want to get better and they come to practice with that attitude. The girls last year set the bar pretty high. We graduated eight of them, but these girls want to continue doing what the girls last year did. We have a lot of girls with zero varsity experience, except Kakos, but it is a great opportunity for these girls. I have coached Kakos for three years and she pretty much knows what it takes. She is building as a leader. We have an enjoyable group of girls to work with the next couple of years. Kirtland Central and PV are great programs and I respect Holman and Christie a lot, and I know they will be competitive again this year. I think you are going to see another great year of coaching in this district.”

Head Coach: Ben Tensay, 2nd year
Last Season: 7-19, 5th in District 1-4A
Key Returners: Taylor Toledo, Thalia Quinn, Morgan Smith, Jessica Kresl, Autumn Sutherland
New Additions: Nizhoonii Edgewater
Season Outlook: “We are still young and trying to get in the groove of things. We hadn't had a whole lot of practices before our first game against PV, but our kids will get there and they have good chemistry already. We just have to work on our skills. Taylor Toledo and Thalia Quinn are our only seniors coming back and the rest of our key returners are juniors still. Sophomore Nizhoonii Edgewater has come in from Arizona and she has done very well. She will be our starting point guard and I hope she helps us succeed. She handles the ball well and the kids have all embraced her.” — Tensay


Head Coach: Dan Larabee, 2nd year
Last Season: 3-24, 4th in District 1-4A
Key Returners: Trinity Mayo, Kallan Pablo, Haili Bekes, Jeannie Montes.
New Additions: Louisa Maestas, Gabby Munoz, Tashai Werito, Shania Gallegos, Tianna Tso, Rainy Bia
Season Outlook: “We lost five or six seniors, but four of our five starters are back. We have had underclassmen fill a few key spots. Practices just started. I was out with football and the a lot of the girls got to experience the state tournament in soccer and volleyball, which I am very glad they experienced. We haven't talked about goals yet, but the overall goal they had in fall was to make it to the state tournament, and that is a definite goal we want to try to get. You look at the move to 3A in someways as a plus, but coming out district champs in 1-3A doesn't get much easier than it is in 1-4A. Shiprock just hired the new coach from Kirtland Central and his daughter is very good, and the whole reservation district is dang tough.” — Larabee.

Navajo Prep

Head Coach: Rainy Crisp
Last Season: 20-12, 1st in District 1-2A, Eliminated in third round of state tournament
Key Returners: Danielle Coleman, Leilani Howe, Ashley Joe, Delta Higdon
New Additions: Matheney Wilson, Jasmine Coleman, Brooke Becenti, RaineeSommer Yazzie
Season Outlook: “We have so much good basketball common sense right now. Losing by one point to Texico in the semifinals is something we still carry to this day. We use it as great motivation. The returning girls are really holding the new players accountable and bringing them up to speed because we want to be back in the game this year. It will be a challenge because we always have a tough district to get through, and our first focus is defending the district title. We are 14 strong right now with very versatile players, so we are very excited.” — Crisp.