Lady Cats hungry after runnerup finish

Clovis junior Vanessa O’Neal is fouled by the Cannon Falcons’ Natalie Howell during a scrimmage Friday at the high school. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By John Eisel: CNJ sports writer

he Clovis Lady Wildcats are older, deeper and think they’re better than the team that ended up one win short of the state title last season.

It’s time to prove it.

The Lady Wildcats return three all-district players in juniors Brittany Blackmon, Aimee Hilburn and Tori Quintana from last year’s state 5A basketball runnerup team that went 27-4.

Blackmon, Hilburn and Quintana each averaged at least 10 points a game last year. In addition to all-district, Blackmon and Hilburn were all-state.

“They really stepped up and played like sophomores last year, so we expect a lot of good things out of them,” Clovis coach Miles Watters said. “That’s a pretty good nucleus to have back and they’re all just juniors.”

Blackmon said the 57-49 loss to Mayfield in the championship has motivated the team during off-season workouts.

“We were working hard (last year), but the fact we lost state, we’re working even harder this year,” she said.

However, Quintana isn’t at 100 percent to start the year. The point guard had an ACL tear in the spring. Quintana said her leg gets tired, which she isn’t used to, but she’s not favoring any leg, either. Watters said Quintana’s basketball skills make up for any physical limitations she may have early on.

One player who appears to be back 100 percent is senior forward Roxanne Luera, who hurt her knee last season.
“She’s doing great now,” Blackmon said.

The Lady Cats will stay with the fast-pace transition game but will hang their hats on defense, a Watters trademark.

“We think defense wins games, mostly,” junior forward Vanessa O’Neal said.

With 10 upperclassmen and increased depth, Watters said the Lady Wildcats might press more this season.

“We’ve got nine kids who can start and play,” Watters said.
He said they’ve been using different rotations in practice, and nothing is set as to which rotation will start which game.

“No one is just out there, the whole team is really good,” said senior transfer forward Merichia Floyd.

The Lady Cats play a challenging pre-district schedule that includes Texas powers Lubbock Coronado, Frenship and Canyon — plus they play in the Rio Rancho tournament in mid-December. Watters picked Sandia and Hobbs as challengers for the District 4-5A crown.

With tough games on the horizon, Watters wants to see how the Lady Cats deal with adversity.

“When things go bad, we don’t pick each other up and we don’t play through our tough spots as well as we should,” he said of practice so far this season.

Rebounding tops the Lady Wildcats agenda of areas that need improvement. That was a main culprit in last year’s 57-49 loss to Mayfield in the title game. The Lady Trojans had a 41-23 edge on the boards.

“They weren’t satisfied with being the runnerup,” Watters said. “They had a lot of accomplishments last year but bottom line they wanted to win it all last year and they didn’t quite get that done last year.”