GLENDALE — Sanders Valley’s six seniors have heard the stories of coach Julia Six’s playing days at their soon-to-be alma mater.
Six, who played from 1972-76, never made the state finals as a player. Valley’s teams always fell short. The year after she graduated, Valley made its first championship game appearance.
Those current seniors didn’t want that happening to them. So Valley put together a monster first half and held on just tight enough in the second to beat Fort Defiance Window Rock 55-52 in the Division III semifinals Friday at Jobing.com Arena.
Valley (27-3) will face the winner of Winslow and Holbrook in the state championship at 8 p.m. Saturday on the same court. It will be only Valley’s third title game in program history. Valley lost in both ’77 and ’80.
“This is a huge accomplishment for these girls,” Six said. “They’ve been playing hard the last three years.”
Valley had a harder time missing shots than making them in the first half, shooting out to a 44-27 lead. Over the first two quarters, Valley shot 57.1 percent from the field and a whopping 7 of 10 from beyond the arc, including Bettina Swatts final dagger at the halftime buzzer.
The lead ballooned at 18 midway through the second quarter.
“It was a phenomenal first half that they played,” Window Rock coach Charles Chong said. “That’s the Valley that everyone’s afraid of.”
A meeker version took the court for the second half. Window Rock (21-10) extended its defensive pressure, refusing to give Valley’s bevy of guards open looks.
Valley made just one 3-pointer in the second half, and sank just four second-half field goals.
“It’s really frustrating,” Swatts said. “I don’t even know how to explain it, especially when it’s a close game and shots aren’t going in.”
On offense, Window Rock became more assertive in the paint, winning the rebounding battle 45-20 and pulling down 23 offensive boards for 36 second-chance points. With forward Arianne Sheka (nine points, 15 rebounds) in foul trouble, fellow forward Aspen Shepherd took over, scoring 31 points to go along with 20 rebounds.
“I told them, ‘You’re in there because of your size. Take advantage of it,’” Chong said. “And they fought.”
But Window Rock also committed 32 turnovers, none more crucial than its throwaway in the final seconds. Shepherd had just cut the lead to one before Valley answered with a put-back bucket.
Window Rock had one final shot, but threw it away.
“They hit the shots when they needed to,” Chong said. “We had opportunities that we didn’t capitalize on. Instead of getting a shot, we’d get a turnover.”
Adrianna Nez led Valley with 17 points and six steals, and Kristan Quigley had 13 points and eight steals.