Normally, at this time of the year, Nikki Villescaz would be on the softball field.
But based on the past three seasons, this isn’t a normal year for Villescaz or the Mountain Pointe girls basketball team.
After winning the East Valley Region championship, Villescaz and the Pride are headed for the state 5A-I playoffs for the first time since 2006.
Villescaz is a junior guard who went through the last couple of seasons when the Pride were 9-20 and 3-21 with no hope of making the playoffs.
That allowed her to be on the field from the first day of tryouts at Mountain Pointe.
Now that second sport will have to wait.
“When they had softball tryouts people were asking when I was coming out and it was one more week, then two more weeks, then longer,” Villescaz said.
“I knew this year would be different, and I knew we were going to be good,” she said. “But, no, I didn’t expect that we would go undefeated in our region, be the conference champions and make the playoffs.”
As the seventh seed among the 16 teams that qualify for the playoff, Mountain Pointe (16-2) will host Mesa Dobson in the opening round of the playoffs on Thursday night as the opener of a playoff doubleheader.
The sixth-seeded boys basketball team (15-3) is also coming off of two losing seasons and also won the East Valley league championship. They will host the first round of the playoffs.
The Pride girls team got to know each other during the summer league, and Villescaz went from carrying a lot of the load as a point guard to more of a shooting guard.
“Everything just kind of clicked,” she said. “I think because of what we experienced the last couple of years we worked hard, we started weight training, working hard together, bonding, doing team stuff and getting more organized.”
Villescaz paid her dues over the past two seasons and became stronger because of it, Mountain Pointe coach Trevor Neider said.
“She has been playing up for the last two years,” Neider explained.
Villescaz was a point guard during the summer before Shanice Henderson showed up. That allowed Villescaz an opportunity to return to a more familiar guard spot.
“She is one of our best shooters, and we needed her at guard,” Neider said. “She doesn’t have to handle everything and that made it easier for her.”
Villescaz concedes she is more comfortable this season.
“I feel like I can trust everyone,” she said. “I don’t feel like I have to do it all by myself because we have Shanice, Katie (Nemecek), Aleks (Cataruzolo), Gabby (Johnson) and everyone else, and I rely on them more.”
When Villescaz started playing basketball in elementary school it was to keep up with her older brother. Eventually she influenced her younger sister, Jerrica, a sophomore playing on the varsity team this season, to get involved.
“It can be difficult,” Villescaz said, “but it can be fun, too. She encourages me, and it’s all we talk about at home.”
The turning point of the season, Villescaz said, may have been when the Pride beat Gilbert Perry early in the regular season.
“They were good, and we were good, and it was a close game all the way,” she said. “We had to buckle down and tough it out, and I think when it came down to the end we realized that we could pull it off if we played together and that we could handle the pressure.”
Neider told the team before the season started that things were going to be different, Villescaz said.
“We weren’t going out there hoping that we didn’t get beat by 30 points,” she said. “We started the season off right and just built on that.”
Now Villescaz and the Pride want to turn an abnormal season into something more commonplace.