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Aztec High School basketball teams hoping for brighter future


AZTEC — There were no shortages of conflicts last season for Aztec High School basketball teams. 

Between a limited number of players on the rosters, shortened schedules and not nearly enough practice times, the boys and girls teams struggled, combining to win only two of 18 games between the sides.

Competing in one of the most competitive districts for high school basketball in the state, the Tigers will be hoping for more success as some sense of normalcy returns to the court.

Here's a look at the Aztec Tigers basketball teams as they prepare to open their seasons this weekend.

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Boys Basketball

Ryan Dee, who took over as head coach of the team back in April, 2020, is used to winning. 

After winning a pair of championships as coach of the Tse’Bit’Ai boys basketball team in Shiprock between 2014 and 2020, Dee was also the head girls basketball coach in 2017 with the team winning the Basin Championship.

Dee was announced as head coach of the Aztec boys program as the pandemic raged, shutting down athletic programs across the state and leaving Dee and his team scrambling for opportunities.

"Everything threw us off our game," Dee said of the uncertainty regarding scheduling of games and practices. "Once we were able to play, we had a talented group and showed some promise but just weren't able to finish games."

Having a limited schedule and less opportunities to work together as a team cost the Tigers throughout much of the spring campaign, as they finished the season winless in eight games, outscored by an average margin of 20 points per game.

"I think if we'd had more games, some of those that we had to cancel and more time together, there would have been some different outcomes," Dee said.

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In the time between last season's end and the start of this upcoming season, Dee and his team participated in summer programs against schools like Farmington and in tournaments in Durango.

"We did that with the design to build chemistry and that connection for the style of play we want to utilize," Dee said.

Some of the returning starters for Aztec's boys team include seniors Skyler Bouren, Aidan Lee and Isaiah Parra. Also joining the team this season are football starters like Landan Frost and soccer standout Jedidiah Jones, as well as senior Darion Begay.

"We have a good chemistry that we've built on,' Dee said. "The seniors will give a lot of leadership on the style of play I'm looking for, which is press-heavy and creating offense off our defense."

Dee knows the challenges of playing against competition in District 1-4A, which was represented by two teams in last spring's state tournament. It was held with only eight teams, as opposed to its standard 12 teams.   

"I think all those beatings we took last season, going through the trials and tribulations that we did, built a resiliency in these kids," Dee said. "Some of these players have come in with a different attitude and it's coming back full circle."

The Aztec boys team opens their season Saturday at 2 p.m. on the road at Tohatchi with their first home game on Monday against Grants.

For more information about the Aztec High School boys basketball team, including rosters, schedules and more, check out their official MaxPreps webpage

Girls Basketball

Playing a shortened schedule of games was tough enough for the Aztec Tigers girls basketball team, but everything changed midway through an already challenging schedule when the squad was forced to play seven games in eight nights.

"We had to shut things down last spring after a game against Bloomfield because someone got sick and we had to quarantine for 10 days," said head coach Robert McCaskill. "We had no practices whatsoever. I was pretty pleased with what we accomplished that season after all that."

The girls team finished 2-8 last season, but will be bringing back some key starters in hopes of improving off that mark when they open this season Saturday at 6:30 p.m. on the road at Tohatchi.

Seniors Araceli Huaracha and Kelsey Adams will provide the leadership on the team, while juniors Kelila Lewis, Brooke Calvert and Cataya Moffett will also be looked upon to provide depth and experience for the team.

"There's a lot more resiliency among the girls it seems," McCaskill said. "I think they're having more fun now and that's the approach we're taking."

For more information about the Aztec High School girls basketball team, including schedules, rosters and more, check out their official MaxPreps webpage.

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