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Desert Vista welcomes expectations, pressure of being No. 1

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Posted: Sunday, December 8, 2013 10:56 am

The Desert Vista girls basketball team isn’t shying away from anything.

Expectations? Bring ’em on.

Bull’s eye? Take your best shot.

A better example of their brazen approach is the way the Thunder is playing defense, a staple of coach J’ontar Coleman’s philosophy, in helping Desert Vista get off to a 6-0 start after winning the Lady Pride Thanksgiving tournament.

The Thunder defenders — allowing just 33.3 points a game — are having no trouble getting up close and personal with the opposition.

“We work on defense more than anything else,” Coleman said. “The offense is going to come off the defense. During time outs and practices we are focused on defense and they’ve been doing a great job of making the (opposition) uncomfortable.”

It’s also clear Desert Vista, which hosts Desert Mountain on Tuesday, has no problem handling the pressure of being tabbed the preseason No. 1 as the players and coach have openly talked about winning state for the first time.

It starts with Coleman, who took over the program the last 10 games last season and was retained, as he coaches with the same style he played.

“I like having the bull’s-eye on our back cause it forces you to step up your game,” said Coleman, who went 6-4 last season down the stretch. “You have to play hard at all times when you are getting everyone’s best game and I want them to play hard.

“The girls feed off (having a state title as the goal), but at the same time they are humble. We know we are good enough, but we have to prove every day in the way we practice and in the games.”

The Thunder players have bought into the state talk and it’s hard not to when opposing teams and coaches are coming to their games to get a peek.

“We’ve had teams come watch us like Dobson and the Hamilton coach, who we don’t even play,” said senior guard Emily Wolph, who is committed to Santa Clara. “And (Coleman) reminds us that is our goal. Even in the workout room (strength) coach (Doug) C(hristofis) is telling us this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance and we might never be on a team like this again.”

The season is just under way and there will be plenty of challenges, but the team’s depth and talent does lineup for a pretty special season.

The games have been blowouts thus far so every player is seeing action, but with the up-tempo, pressure style Coleman likes to play the Thunder will eventually settle on a rotation of nine to 10 players.

“We have some shooters,” he said. “We can score with anyone and when our defense is doing the job we can have a tough match up. We are going to count on a lot of players because of the style we play. We have some tougher games coming up and we will find out where we really are.”

The offense is led by Wolph, who is averaging 20.0 points, 1.8 assists, 2.0 rebounds and 1.4 steals, while Jahnae Martin (2.4 assists) and junior Sabrina Haines (9.0 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 3.2 steals) also push the ball.

The block is controlled by junior Kristine Anigwe (13.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.0 blocks, 2.0 steals) to give the Thunder an inside outlook that bodes well.

The key to the whole package is the presence of Haines, who transferred from Mesa Mountain View, where she was a starter her first two years, as the 5-foot-9 guard gives the Thunder that vital third consistent scoring punch.

“It’s been great being here,” she said. “It’s a family and they work together. I knew a lot of them before and it’s been an easy transition.”

Haines said the aspect of the program she has been most impressed with is the fact that the team has remained humble despite the expectations.

“We are all motivated and coming together for the common goal,” she said. “We are all pretty grounded and that’s so important. When teams get cocky it never works out so we understand that no matter what our goals are or how good we are playing we can’t let it define who we are.”

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.

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Jason P. Skoda
  • Jason P. Skoda
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  • Resident sports writer at the Ahwatukee Foothills News

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