A really tough decade of girls varsity basketball for Willcox could at least end as it optimistically started, with a state playoff berth in 2020.
“Moving up and into the playoffs is our goal and our expectation,” second-year head coach Phillip Steward said. “If they buy into what I’m selling them, I think we have a good chance of getting into that spot.”
The Cowgirls program made the playoffs in 2011 and 2012 but failed to come close in the intervening years from 2013 to 2019, always finishing below .500 in their section. They suffered through a 2-34 record in the seasons that ended in 2015 and 2016.
Last year’s 3-9 section record and sixth-place finish out of seven teams was nothing to write home about either as Steward struggled to find a competitive mix.
“I think we have a lot of skills. If we listen to Steward’s plays, we’ll be good,” senior center Tapanga Alexander said.
“I think we are playoff worthy if we all work together,” added senior forward Jordan Rhinehart, “and listen to Stew and do what we need to do.”
Rhinehart and Alexander are joined by senior shooting guard Alma Barajas in displaying more than 10 years’ starting experience, albeit on some struggling teams that never finished higher than fifth in their section nor made the playoffs. They also have to overcome the loss of point guard Sydney Klump, who transferred out her senior season.
“Sophomore Macy Michaels, who plays very aggressive inside, is going to join them in the starting lineup,” Steward said. “Sophomore Kamrielle Wyatt will be stepping into the starting lineup, too, and she has a pretty shot just like Alma. Ana Barajas and Lexsi Morales will come off the bench at shooting guard and point guard.”
They’ll need to double their win output from 4 to 8 this season and outplay section foes Benson or Pima to join Thatcher and Bisbee in the state tournament, as the league’s top four made the postseason last year while Willcox was finishing sixth.
“We haven’t had the best seasons for winning games, but I think we’ve been working super hard and we’ll have a good season this year,” Alma Barajas said.
They’ll debut in front of home fans Saturday in the annual red/white scrimmage during Cowgirl/Cowboy Madness at 6 p.m. Steward feels his senior trio will be very watchable.
“Jordan is going to have to be a playmaker,” the coach said. “I feel like she can take any girl off the dribble.”
“My goal is to teach the young ones how to get better,” Rhinehart said. “Our goal is to win and grow as a team.”
“I can see us in state,” Alexander added. “I’ve never been there for basketball but have been for volleyball and softball.”
“If we can get Tapanga the ball in her spot, she’s going to be a force to deal with inside,” Steward said.
He also hopes the fans will enjoy the shooting of Barajas.
“With Alma, I keep telling her shoot, shoot, shoot. She has a pretty good shot, but she’s a team first girl; and I like that about her, but she don’t take the shot enough.”
“Finally, being a senior is really sad and scary, but I’m excited for this season,” Barajas said. “I know it’s going to be a good one.”