Veteran lineup and the Zellers bolster LL girls

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So much has happened with the Los Lunas High girls basketball program in the past 12 months, it’s tough to find somewhere to begin.

News-Bulletin file photo: Teige Zeller, left, tries to stop Tinaya Murphy of Los Lunas High in a game in January of last year. Zeller, a junior and first-team all-state center last year, is now Murphy’s teammate, as she and her father, coach Marty Zeller, have relocated from Grants to LLHS. The Tigers open the 2012-13 season by hosting Del Norte on Tuesday, Dec. 4.

But after a series of surprising events, the Lady Tigers were left with a new coach and his daughter, both of whom are established Class 4A basketball personalities. Marty Zeller was hired as the coach in April, ending his six-year stint as the Grants boys coach.

He brought his many years of coaching experience, along with his daughter, junior and 2011-12 first-team all-state honoree Teige Zeller, to Los Lunas.

“We don’t really have a system in place yet, as such,” said Marty Zeller. “We’ve mostly been running conditioning and defensive drills, in our fitness class. The kids we’ve had with us have really bought into the work ethic.”

The Lady Tigers open the season by hosting Del Norte on Tuesday, Dec. 4. They’ll need the extra time to prepare, as a number of fall-sport athletes are expect to be regular contributors to the varsity. They’ll have a mostly small, guard-oriented lineup, which works perfectly with a dominant presence like the 6-foot, 2-inch Teige Zeller.

At this time last year, Chris Tapia was beginning his first year as head coach, having taken over from Shane Bell. Tapia guided the team to a 11-8 record through its Jan. 28 game before his arrest on domestic-violence charges led to his suspension for what turned out to be the remainder of the season.

With the help of interim coach Pat Sanchez and assistant Eliseo Aguirre, the Tigers ended up with a 13-14 overall mark and 2-8 in District 6-4A. They did get an uplifting district tournament road win at Miyamura before a season-ending loss at Valencia.

Los Lunas only lost three players to graduation — the athletic Nicole Jenrette, an all-district selection, along with Katherine Benavidez and Jadee Lewis.

Teige Zeller should dominate the paint at both ends of the floor. Los Lunas not only has some quick guards to go with its new “tree” in the middle, some players that have proven their abilities in the paint as well.

Tinaya Murphy is one of three Tiger seniors with significant varsity experience. Having been on the varsity throughout her LLHS career. Murphy is the most versatile and experienced returning Tigers, with a deadly 3-point shot and the tenacity to rebound and score inside.

“Tinaya has really bought into our weight-training program, and it has paid off,” coach Zeller said.

Another key returner is Nikki Hathoot. The senior was the main point guard last year.

“I didn’t get to see Nikki play much over the summer, but I love her work ethic,” said the coach. “There’s no substitute for heart. We really need Nikki to be a vocal leader this year, and we can use her at both the 1 (point guard) and the 2 (shooting guard).

Jordan Benavidez joined the team after her cross country season ended. The speedy senior had some solid games as a guard in each of the past two seasons.

“Jordan has great court awareness,” Zeller said. “She can pass behind her back, and she knows where the 3-pt. line is.”

Junior Katie Inman is a talented 5-foot, 10-inch post who got major minutes last season. Her role will change with the addition of Teige Zeller, but the coach said if the left-handed Inman can add upper body strength, she can make an impact as well.

Sophomores who saw limited varsity action last year include Sanae Gaerlan, Kaitlyn Thompson, Elise Tapia and another lefty, Dominique Pohl. All five seem to have potential to find roles in what Zeller intends to be an up-tempo, force-the-issue corps of guards.

Mariah Doyle is a post who could add to Teige Zeller’s and Inman’s contributions in the paint.

The coach has several freshman who could end up getting varsity minutes. He said Jordan Holland is very talented, the super-speedy Cera Chavez and Daisa Martinez, who Zeller calls “a great shooter, and a tough player.”

Zeller plans to have several varsity/junior varsity floaters. They’ll need to work extremely hard, especially on defense.

“We are not going to have a four-man shell on defense,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of speed, and we will probably run a lot of man-to-man, and initiate the action with our defense.”

On offense, of course, a lot will be oriented around Teige Zeller. The coach said his daughter’s 6-foot-2 presence is equivalent to adding a 6-foot-8 player to a boys team; he said Teige hustles and anticipates well, and sees a shot by a teammate as “a potential pass to her.”

However, the coach says he wants the rest of the team to be “more than support players.”

“Whoever controls the middle of the floor, wins the game,” said Zeller. “We’re going to make every game very physical, and initiate contact, and make it a goal of getting a three-point play on each shot.”

The coach, who has an elaborate, written coaching philosophy, wants players to think of the entire game as important.

“A game is divided into seconds,” he said. “Not minutes.”


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