Lady Horse­men over­come ver­ti­cal chal­lenge

Lady Horse­men are short, but play­ers make up for it with speed

Santa Fe New Mexican - - FRONT PAGE - By Will Web­ber wweb­[email protected]­i­can.com

At 5-foot-7 (in shoes), Joe­lyn Fer­nan­dez is tied atop the leader­board in terms of height on the St. Michael’s girls bas­ket­ball team.

She’s right there with Stella Va­len­cia, Taryn Aguilar and Claire Pat­ten. Maybe Ha­ley Gar­cia, too.

The 12-player ros­ter is cer­tainly loaded with qual­ity play­ers, just not qual­ity height. Try as he might, head coach Martin Esquibel can’t do any­thing about it. “If I could coach my play­ers to be taller,” he says, “I would.”

As ver­ti­cally chal­lenged as they may be, the lit­tle team with an all-guard lineup has some se­ri­ous up­side. Fig­u­ra­tively, not lit­er­ally. Chief among the perks is speed. “I’d say that’s prob­a­bly what we do best, is run,” point guard Cia Al­varez says. “We’re a team that has to use speed if we’re go­ing to do it.”

At 5-1, Al­varez has plenty of it — so much so that when asked about the size-to-speed com­par­i­son she ac­ci­den­tally de­scribed her­self as 4-foot-1.

“Short, but not that short,” she says quickly.

Al­varez leads the team in as­sists and steals, and led the team in scor­ing Thurs­day with 14 points in a 69-40 loss to Por­tales in the open­ing round of the Bobby Ro­driguez Cap­i­tal City Tour­na­ment at Santa Fe High.

It drops St. Michael’s (2-3) into the con­so­la­tion bracket where it, un­sur­pris­ingly, will have to con­tend with teams who see more of their sur­round-

ings from an at­mo­spheric stand­point.

“We’re kind of used to that, hon­estly,” Al­varez says. “Ev­ery team we play is go­ing to be a lot big­ger, so it’s just some­thing we have to han­dle.”

A se­nior who is tech­ni­cally listed as a guard and a post, Fer­nan­dez says she iden­ti­fies more as a guard. Same, too, for Va­len­cia, a sopho­more.

It’s what both have al­ways played and what each as­pires to be. There are plenty of oc­ca­sions, how­ever, where they’re forced to fill the lane and con­tend with play­ers con­sid­er­ably taller, maybe grab a re­bound or box out against play­ers who take up quite a bit more space.

It worked for a while in Thurs­day’s game. Down 28-23 with a chance to make it a one-posses­sion game at half­time, the Lady Horse­men missed on a pair of of­fen­sive put­backs in the clos­ing sec­onds of the first half.

That opened the flood­gates for a one-sided af­fair. Por­tales (1-2) opened a dou­ble-digit lead in the first two min­utes of the third quar­ter and was up by 18 en­ter­ing the fourth. It mush­roomed to 20 points, then to 29 in the fi­nal minute.

Sev­eral of those Lady Rams buck­ets came by dump­ing the ball in­side and let­ting the bigs go to work. It’s some­thing the Lady Horse­men are sim­ply go­ing to have to con­tend with for the sea­son.

“If we can just, you know, not let other teams get those shots right un­der the bas­ket, I think we’ll do OK,” says ju­nior Carisa Padilla, a 5-6 shoot­ing guard who has proven to be one of the bet­ter re­bound­ers.

She, Va­len­cia and Fer­nan­dez com­bine for about 11 re­bounds a game. Their to­tal out­put on the glass isn’t great, but it’s enough to make St. Michael’s a team that will re­main the play­off dis­cus­sion so long as the five-guard lineup con­tin­ues to hit shots and dic­tate the pace through mis­matches in height.

“It’s not like we’re go­ing to get any taller,” Esquibel says.

The ad­di­tion of Gar­cia to the ros­ter will help.

An ath­letic for­ward who sat out last sea­son to con­cen­trate on ten­nis, she started this sea­son as team man­ager and got her first ac­tion as a player in Thurs­day’s game.

She and Pat­ten came off the bench to at least con­test Por­tales with their size and ath­leti­cism.

Esquibel says Padilla has the po­ten­tial to be an all-around star, one who can mix it up in the paint, drive to the hole in traf­fic and spot up for a jumper — if, that is, she can over­come the one ob­sta­cle that stands in her way. In other words, her­self. “Carisa is re­ally hard on her­self,” Esquibel says. “She’s her own worst critic. A missed shot or a lit­tle mis­take here or there and she’s go­ing to take it out on her­self and not any­one else. If we can get to her go easy with things like that, she’ll be even bet­ter than she al­ready is.”

“I’ve al­ways been that way,” Padilla says. “I don’t know why. I just ex­pect a lot from my­self no mat­ter what I’m do­ing.”

Re­gard­less, this team might even­tu­ally be­come the mod­ern day fe­male ver­sion of the Mighty Mid­gets. What they lack in size they can make up for in stay­ing low to the ground and mak­ing op­po­nents pay for not keep­ing up.

“I think we can be pretty good,” Esquibel says. “We’ll have some things to work on, but I think we’ve al­ready shown we have the abil­ity to win.”

LUIS SÁNCHEZ SATURNO/THE NEW MEX­I­CAN

St. Michael’s Joe­lyn Fer­nan­dez takes a shot Thurs­day against Por­tales in the Bobby Ro­driguez Cap­i­tal City Tour­na­ment. At 5-foot-7, she is one of the tallest Lady Horse­men. What the team­mates lack in size, they make up for in speed.

PHO­TOS BY LUIS SÁNCHEZ SATURNO THE NEW MEX­I­CAN

LEFT: St. Michael’s Carisa Padilla drives through Por­tales play­ers Thurs­day in the Bobby Ro­driguez Cap­i­tal City Tour­na­ment. The Lady Horse­men played well in the first half against Por­tales be­fore fad­ing fast in the sec­ond half to lose, 69-40.

ABOVE: St. Michael’s head coach Martin Esquibel says, ‘If I could coach my play­ers to be taller, I would.’ The team’s tallest play­ers are 5-foot-7.

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