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Navajo Prep basketball looking ahead to another successful season


FARMINGTON — The game of basketball is back in a big way this season at Navajo Prep.

The girls team will be in search of their third straight state championship while also returning one of their most inspirational starters, while the boys team, district champions in each of the last two seasons, are looking for another run at a state title.

Here's a look at the upcoming Navajo Prep basketball teams which open play next week.

Navajo Prep girls basketball

Head coach Rainy Crisp demands a lot from herself and has asked her players to do the same.

While a player at Navajo Prep, Crisp was one of the most decorated female high school athletes in New Mexico history, helping guide the Eagles to three Class 2A state championships and one runner-up finish. Crisp captained the track and field team for three years and was named New Mexico Class 2A Player of the Year in 1997 and 1998.

After a four-year stint playing basketball at Arizona State University, Crisp returned to Navajo Prep 16 years ago and has propelled the girls basketball team to two straight state Class 3A titles and 91 wins to 37 losses over the last five seasons.

"I do expect a lot. I bring back here a philosophy of what it's going to take to play at the next level," Crisp said. "For me, it's really about me pushing the girls to be the best they can."

The Eagles girls basketball team won the Class 3A state title in the 2019-20 season, defeating Tohatchi 43-33 in the championship game. The following season, played under stricter conditions due to the pandemic, saw the Eagles finish a perfect 14-0, outscoring their opponents by an average of 36 points per game. The Eagles beat Robertson by a final of 63-47 to claim their second straight title.

More: Navajo Prep girls basketball trio earns 3A All-State First Team honors

"We were really uncertain if we were even going to have a season," Crisp said. "After the cancellation of fall sports, it was tough. But it was a great year and the girls worked together and we picked up right where we'd left off from the season before."

Also unique to last season was missing the accomplishments of Laila Charley, who suffered a brain injury in an all-terrain vehicle accident on July 15, 2020. She spent nearly three months rehabbing at University of New Mexico Hospital and was unable to play during the shortened spring campaign.  

Charley, who was cleared by doctors last summer to participate in sports again, ran on the cross-country team and was recently named as the recipient of the New Mexico Activities Association's Spirit of Sport Award. She is expected to return as a starter for the Eagles team this season, which tips off next week.

More: Navajo Prep basketball star Laila Charley receives 2021 Spirit of Sport Award from NMAA

"Every time we felt sorry for ourselves, or were coming off a bad game, we used (Charley) for an example," Crisp said. "We knew she would have given anything to be out here with us. Everything we accomplished last season, we did it for her. She's a huge part of our success."

Charley, a senior, will be back on the court this season for the Eagles, joining teammates and returning starters like senior point guard Amber Garcia and sophomore Aniya Johnson. 

"I'm excited to see what both of them will bring to us this season," Crisp said of Garcia and Johnson. "Both of them had tremendous seasons for us and I'm expecting big things again from both of them."

The Navajo Prep girls basketball season will open on Tuesday, Nov. 30 when they visit the Scorpion Gym to face Shiprock. For more information on the Navajo Prep girls team, check out their official webpage

Navajo Prep boys basketball

The Eagles boys basketball team went 12-2 last season, including a perfect 10-0 mark in District 1-3A, earning the 3-seed in the state tournament. 

Head coach Matt Melvin, now in his third season at that position, dealt with a number of significant changes from his first season to the second, which not only included a younger, less experienced roster, but also having to overcome the many changes that presented themselves during the pandemic.

"At (Navajo) Prep, it changed a lot of things. A lot of our guys are from so many different places and the rules and protocols are different in those places, so it was difficult to juggle all of that," Melvin said. "But at the same time, we were all in the same boat. No one had a preseason, no one really had anything as an advantage."

More: Navajo Prep boys outlast New Mexico Military Institute in 3A state quarterfinals

The Eagles boys team made it to the Class 3A state semifinals before being eliminated by eventual state champion Hot Springs, who won the title in a 45-43 thriller over Sandia Prep.

"Overall, it was nice to be able to tell our seniors that they were able to have a season," Melvin said. "Even though the games were inside mainly empty gyms, it was a good experience to get this far and do so well."

Melvin expects another competitive run through the district schedule this season, especially if fans are able to attend games both at the Eagles Nest and around the community.

"There's probably not a more fan-crazed district in the state," Melvin said. "The following for Navajo Prep, Tohatchi, Thoreau, everywhere we go, it's standing room only. In this region, it's huge. That's what I'm most excited about looking forward."

Senior Dontrelle Denetso led the Eagles boys team with 17 points per game last season, and is coming off a strong football season as starting quarterback, in which he guided Navajo Prep to the state playoffs. 

"Athletically, (Denetso) is out of this world," Melvin said. "I've seen a lot of kids around the state and you're not going to run into many kids as talented and athletic as him."

A majority of the starters from last season are coming back this season as well, including senior Kylen Littlehat and sophomore Orion King.

"We're bringing back a very young, very talented bunch this season," Melvin said. "And we get to play hopefully in front of crowds where these kids can get excited about that opportunity to hear the fans again."

The Navajo Prep boys basketball season opens at the Shiprock Invite, beginning Thursday, Dec. 2. For more information on the Navajo Prep boys basketball team, check out their official webpage

Steve Bortstein can be reached via email at SBortstein@Gannett.com, via Twitter @DTSBortstein or on the phone at (505) 635-2680.