Lady Eagles' hopes are tied to returners, new atmosphere

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Coming off of two down seasons with a new coach, it would be understandable if expectations were not very high in the Belen Lady Eagles camp.

Don't let coach Dereck Atencio hear you — if you are mumbling those low expectations of his girls basketball team.

Under the tutelage of former Belen coach Danny Griego and a vowed disciple of Bobby Knight, the youthful Atencio has brought a change of atmosphere to the Belen girls practices and hopes.

"I am not saying by any stretch of the imagination that I am a good coach," said Atencio with an intensity about the sport that is seldom seen. "I have stolen (ideas) from good coaches."

Belen begins the season with two games on the road. The Eagles are set to play, Tuesday, Nov. 27, at Socorro, along with Nov. 30 at Albuquerque Academy.

There are some building blocks in place to recover from a 3-21 season, and 0-10 in District 6-4A. The Eagles will try to break a 18-game losing streak against 6-4A foes.

Atencio has been busy since taking the job in the late spring. He got a couple of girls re-interested in the program that were absent last year, and they could contribute right away.

Felicia Olguin and Jordan Rodriguez had played for former coach Danny Griego three years ago. They rejoin the Eagles now that Atencio is the coach and Griego is the assistant coach.

Rodriguez transferred to Los Lunas last year, then back to Belen.

"She is eligible," said Atencio of Rodriguez, who might end up being his only senior. "We got that cleared through the New Mexico Activities Association."

Of course, super sophomore Mariah Forde will lead the team. Atencio plans to open the game for his 5-foot, 11-inch player to include a more wide-range participation than the interior game that she played most of last year.

"She is more versatile than duct tape," said Atencio of Forde's skills. "She will play where ever we need her to play. He has such a unique skill set, that she could play anywhere on the court. She has size, she has ball-handling skill, and she can play inside or out."

He also noted that in the new atmosphere, Forde,, a sophomore, is the consummate team player.

"The great thing about her is she is a 'what can I do for the program' type of kid," said Atencio.

Atencio, who assisted Danny Griego's brother, Phil, at St. Pius last year, noted that the Eagles are guard-heavy and will play four guards and one post, for the most part.

He has solid options inside with juniors Kristian Sainz and Monica "Red" Garley.

Sainz will see most of the time in the paint as a scrappy, tough-as-nails defender and rebounder. Garley adds an athletic component inside.

Junior Alexis Holguin and sophomores Ari Valdez, Kaylyn Gomez, and Tori Morgan return from last year's team.

The Eagles will miss the ball-handling skills of Justine Stambaugh, who graduated last year along with Haley Ammons, Michaela Marquez and Denisha Sanchez.

Atencio explained the change in philosophy for the 2012-13 Eagles.

"We are a defensive-first program — defense and rebounding," said Atencio. "If you can't play defense, then you can't play for us."

The team will look for the break, but that is not all of the offense effort one will see from this year's Belen team.

"If we can get something easy out of transition, obviously we are going to take it," said Atencio. "Our first love would be to get something off of the break, but you can't always do that against good teams."

As a Knight disciple, it was not hard to tell what offense the Eagles would embrace.

"The motion offense demands a lot of them," said Atencio. "As a coach, it is up to me not to overload them. As the season goes and their skill set changes, the restrictions and guidelines will change." We have people that can bring the ball up against pressure. We will be O.K. there."

"It is tough because we are in a new system and you are talking about three state qualifiers on the road in the first week," said Atencio.

Belen will open a newly refurbished home gym with Moriarty on Friday, Dec. 6.

Atencio is grateful for the experience he got at St. Pius.

"Phil (Griego) is a ninja — a black belt master — and I am just a little minion," he said.

Atencio also noted that it was strange to have reversed positions on the bench with his mentor, Danny Griego.

"It is a very different thing," said Atencio. "Philosophically, we have a lot of similarities. And we have some differences. We have such a close relationship, that we talk it out and hash it out. It is about what the best thing is for us to do in this situation."

He respects the wisdom available to him from the former long-time head coach of both the BHS girls and boys teams.

"I would be foolish not to listen when he says things," said Atencio.

Atencio has been pleased that the girls have brought into the program, displaying a lot of energy throughout the summer and now in practice.

"When you see programs that are unselfish as a whole, that is so much better," said the new head coach. "Our goal, night in, night out, is to play as hard as we can, as smart as we can, and as together as we can."


-- Email the author at mstearns@news-bulletin.com.