Lady Jags have lots of new faces

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Valencia High's girls basketball team made some impressive strides in its first four years of existence.

However, now that their first big graduating class has departed, if the Lady Jaguars are going to duplicate the success of the past two seasons, they'll have to do it with a much younger, less-experienced lineup.

Valencia opens the 2012-13 season by hosting St. Pius at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 27.

The departure of 2012 graduates Michelle Traynham, Bryana Johnson, Mikayla Gallegos, Molly Holliday, Andrea Wilson and Starlyn Trujillo left a huge void in the program. Traynham, who is now playing at New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas, N.M., left the biggest gap, as she averaged 12.8 points per game in helping the Jags go 21-8.

They make their second straight appearance in the state quarterfinals, where they lost narrowly to Roswell High in the Pit.

Vigil, who was chosen as the All-Metro 3A/4A Coach of the Year by her peers, praised Traynham, a four-year starter, who also led the team in rebounding, blocked shots, assists and 3-pointers made. She will also miss Johnson, her starting point guard, along with the speed of Holliday and tenacity in the paint from Gallegos.

However, assistant coach Manny Vigil guided an undefeated junior varsity squad, so not all of the talent is gone.

"We had such a talented senior class last year, who played varsity for most their high school careers," said Shannon Vigil. "It was exciting this summer seeing players fill in those spots and positions."

Unfortunately, one of the projected starting guards, sophomore Kristina Contratto, tore a knee ligament in a soccer match, and will miss the basketball and track seasons.

"We found success at pressing this summer," said Vigil. "But will have to adjust now that we won't have Kristina."

Vigil said her team has goals of again finishing in the top three places in district and making it back to the Pit.

"As long as the girls can stay well-conditioned, stick together, stay healthy and give 110 percent, and we find a consistent scorer, we'll meet those goals," said Vigil. "It's still one of the most competitive districts in all classifications of (New Mexico) basketball, and so I think it will be hard for any certain team to control the district race."

The 6-4A landscape has changed a lot since March. Grants won the regular-season district title, but Gallup won on Grants' court in the 6-4A title game. Teige Zeller, the all-state player, went from Grants to Los Lunas this year when her father took the head-coaching job there.

There won't be many seniors on this year's team. However, Tori Torres will be one of them, and she is a strong 3-point shooter, and led the team in assists in its summer tournaments.

Julia Herrera is a senior and a strong, fearless interior player, and was one of the few Jaguars willing to take a charge last season. Vigil wants and expects Herrera to draw contact on offense, and get to the foul line often.

Norene Archuleta didn't play in either her sophomore or junior seasons, but the all-state soccer player is out for hoops as a senior. Her speed will help with defensive pressure.

Miranda Buck is only 5-feet, 1-inch tall, but Vigil says the senior's dedication has helped her dramatically. Known as "Lil' Buck," she can drive and dish, shoot from the outside."

Nicole Traynham would have been another contributing senior, but the post player did not come not out for basketball this year.

One of the most improved Lady Jaguars is Brenda Baeza. The junior is coming off of an outstanding season that included helping lead the VHS volleyball team to the 6-4A tourney championship.

"Brenda dominated in the summer at the post," said Vigil. "Her reaction time and long arms put her in great position for blocks and rebounds. She's able to effectively use the drop step and to play multiple positions."

Karina Dow is a tenacious guard who had to sit out her sophomore season after transferring from Belen High. Vigil said the junior "thrashes to the basket."

Miranda "Next Week" Chavez is a solid interior player, though the junior has yet to develop as a scorer. Vigil said she would like to see Chavez develop her inside game.

Vigil is expecting her first child, but with a due date of April 10, she said she'll be able to coach the entire season.


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