Reaching new heights

Steve Lewis/Durango Herald file photo

Ignacio senior Michelle Simmons “has done a fabulous job in ... her role as point guard,” Bobcats’ first-year head coach Justa Whitt said Thursday before they host the Class 2A Region 3 tournament at Durango High School. She knows when to shoot, when to drive, and most importantly, when to dish.

By Jim Sojourner Herald staff writer

The New York Jets could learn something from the Ignacio Bobcats.

For the first time in about two decades, the Ignacio High School girls basketball team earned the right to host the Class 2A Region 3 tournament this weekend with its district and San Juan Basin League titles.

Starting today at Durango High School, the Bobcats will look to nab another title – a regional championship – to put the Bobcats in the CHSAA Class 2A Girls Basketball State Championships for the first time since they lost in the 2003 state quarterfinals.

That would be yet another pretty piece to a season that’s showcased some unexpected and long-awaited success for the IHS girls program. And it carries the weight of that New York lesson: Maybe the Jets, like the Bobcats, just need to get along.

“Whether you like each other or not, you play as sisters, and you love each other,” IHS first-year head coach Justa Whitt said Thursday of the attitude she brought to Ignacio’s locker room. “There’s no divide there.

“That can break a team down quicker than anything, if there’s a divide between players.”

This year’s Bobcats couldn’t get much closer on the court, Whitt said, and like a mosaic, the senior leaders are the glue that plasters them all together.

To start with, the bulk of the Ignacio girls team has played together for years, as far back as junior high school, Whitt said. They’ve come up in a consistent Ignacio system that’s helped lift all boats to the “same level of play.”

The girls read each other on the court – they know where to be, where to go and where to find each other on offense and on defense.

And they sacrifice for one another, senior point guard Michelle Simmons most visibly on the court.

“Michelle has done a fabulous job in ... her role as point guard,” Whitt said.

She knows when to shoot, when to drive, and most importantly, when to dish.

Seniors Valerie Armstrong and Mariah Vigil have settled into supporting leadership roles, too, Whitt said, and even off the bench, senior Jordan Cuthair has done her part.

“Her spirit and work ethic in practice I think has always driven her,” Whitt said of Cuthair.

If the seniors are the glue, though, Whitt has been the hands that have pieced the Bobcats’ mosaic together. She’s stressed that no one piece is beautiful by itself.

“More emphasis on the fact that they have to do it together,” Whitt said of her coaching philosophy. “We’ve always emphasized that, but I felt it needed to be something we learned from the first practice this year.”

From the first practice to the last few, the Bobcats (17-4) now have their sights on Sanford (12-11) in Round 1 of the regional tournament at 4 p.m. today at DHS.

Sanford has some size on Ignacio, but Whitt said the Bobcats have got legs up on quickness.

“I think our speed can outrun them. We just have to execute,” said Whitt, the Bobcats’ assistant coach the last three years. “I think if we put the pressure like we can that we should be in good shape for the first game.”

A win there would match them up against the winner of Del Norte-Paonia on the other side of the bracket Saturday afternoon at DHS, and another win in the regional championship would them up with Class 2A’s elite eight.

But Whitt said Ignacio isn’t thinking that far ahead.

“We’ve got to take care of Sanford first,” Whitt said.

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