Lady Sand Devils are champs!

By Steven Law
Posted 2/29/24

PHOENIX, Ariz. – Celeste Claw walked into Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum Saturday night wearing a red suit and her game face. She walked out wearing a smile and Victory Lace. ...

PHOENIX, Ariz. – Celeste Claw walked into Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum Saturday night wearing a red suit and her game face. …

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Lady Sand Devils are champs!


PHOENIX, Ariz. – Celeste Claw walked into Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum Saturday night wearing a red suit and her game face. She walked out wearing a smile and Victory Lace.

The Lady Sand Devils were crowned 3A champions after defeating the Window Rock Fighting Scouts 35-29 Saturday night, after which they kissed the golden trophy, took the Champion Selfies and cut down the nets. Each Lady Sand Devil got to keep a square of the net, then they placed the Victory Lace (basketball net) over their coach’s beaming face and settled it around her neck.

Saturday’s title game was the fourth time the Lady Sand Devils and the Scouts have met this year. Window Rock won the first game 55-44; Page won the second game 48-36; Window Rock won the third time, 57-51, which was also the 3A North Regional Championship Game.

The Lady Sand Devils entered the State Championship Tournament as the no. 1 seed, which earned them a first-round bye. They faced the Ganado Hornets in the second round on the Sand Devils home court. It was the third time the two teams have met this season, and Page emerged the victor, 60-38.

After playing each other three times, Page and Window Rock teams were familiar with the other’s plays and offensive schemes, as well as each player’s strengths and weaknesses, which was a factor in the low-scoring game.

Window Rock got the first points on the board, a three-pointer. The Sand Devils’ first points came from a free throw and Jade Reid hit a 12-foot jumper to tie the game at three. The Scouts followed Reid’s trey with a three-pointer of their own. Page’s Tayla Franklin – who had a monster night against Ganado in the second round – hit a jumper, followed by a three-pointer from Alyssa Harris which gave the Sand Devils their first lead of the game, 8-7 with 50 seconds remaining in the first quarter.

Lady Sand Devils head basketball coach Celeste Claw credits a great deal of the team’s successful season to the tight bond between the players, which formed over the Christmas Break when the team traveled to San Francisco to compete in a tournament.

Another important thing happened during that tournament: The confidence level of Alyssa Harris, the team’s point guard, grew by a large leap. Harris’ increased confidence and improved ball handling skills were noticeable to all Sand Devil fans when the team returned home and resumed regular season play. Harris went on to become the team’s leading scorer, as well as its offensive architect. So Coach Claw and Sand Devil Nation were nervous when Harris got her second foul in the final minute of the first quarter. Coach Claw kept her star player in for the second quarter and Harris didn’t pick up another foul till late in the game.

While the Sand Devils offense was spread out among several players, the bulk of Window Rock’s points came from Jamie Tso, who hit three 3-pointers in the first quarter, which was nine of her team’s ten points. Tso hit her third 3-pointer in the quarter’s final seconds, giving the Scouts a 10-8 lead at the end of the first quarter.

The second quarter was a low-scoring outing for both teams. The Sand Devils produced just four points (a field goal each from Leikara Yazzie and Harris) and the Scouts added just two points. The score was tied at 12 at halftime.

The Sand Devils had a great third quarter. They opened the quarter on a 6-2 scoring run with Leikara Yazzie scoring four more points and Sofia Cambridge adding her first two points of the game. Cambridge also got her fourth blocked shot of the game.

The score was briefly tied at 14 points. When Page went ahead 16-14, they would keep the lead for the duration of the game; their lead fluctuated from three to seven points till the end of the game.

Cambridge had a brilliant third quarter, getting seven of her team’s eleven points. For the Fighting Scouts, Jada Brown kept her team in the game by hitting four out of four free throws. Brown was a 53 percent free throw shooter on the season. Page led 23-20 at the end of the third quarter.

The Sand Devils’ LeLaura Yazzie had a great fourth quarter. She scored her first points of the night a minute into the quarter (a 3-pointer) and went on to score three more off a field goal and a free throw.

Tayla Franklin contributed five points in the quarter, including a dagger 3-pointer from the corner which gave the Sand Devils a seven-point lead with less than two minutes left to play. The Scouts added one more field goal, and, appropriately enough, Alyssa Harris put the season’s final points on the board from a free throw.

The final score read Sand Devils 35, Fighting Scouts 29.

There was nothing left to do but cut down the nets, kiss the trophy and take the victory selfies!

Saturday’s championship marked a brilliant end to what has been a dazzling season for the Lady Sand Devils. They finished 23-5 overall, 11-3 in region.

Saturday’s victory is the first championship for Coach Claw. This is Coach Claw’s third year as the Lady Sand Devils head coach. Coach Claw is a 2012 graduate from Page High School and helped lead her team to a championship her senior year.   

“I’m feeling good,” said Coach Claw after the game. “It was such an adrenaline rush. What an exciting experience. I’m so excited for the team overall, how far we came and what we had to overcome to get to this spot.”

Coach Claw was happy with her team’s performance too.

“We came out strong and focused on or game plan,” she said. “The shots weren’t falling for both teams, but our defense knew it had to stop the Scouts and execute our game plan, and we did it. We did our job. Offense sells tickets and defense wins championships.”

Coach Claw is grateful for the support she and her team receive from the community.

“Window Rock has a tremendous crowd that follows them everywhere and it was fabulous to see our community travel from so far to support us Friday and Saturday. It was fun to coach and fun to see. The girls really proved their worth last night.

“And I have to give a big shout out to our coaching staff and the talents and attention they bring to the program.”

Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren was in attendance for the semi-final and final games of the tournament and even participated in the trophy presentation. Two of the four teams in the final four (Chinle and Window Rock) are located on the Navajo Reservation, and Page (though not located on the reservation) has an 80 percent Navajo student body.

President Nygren said he wanted to show his support for the Navajo Nation’s student athletes.

“All our athletes have been great ambassadors in sports,” Pres. Nygren told the Lake Powell Chronicle after the championship game. “I want to acknowledge them for their perseverance and the many hours of practice because it takes much more than physical competition. It is also a mental and behavioral challenge.”

This year’s varsity Lady Sand Devils are Lashundean Henry, LeLaura Yazzie, Alyssa Harris, Aubrey Martinez, Kristin Harris, Tayla Franklin, Taytum Curley, Jade Reid, Kaydence Tsinigine, Kylie Benale, Sofia Cambridge. Leikara Yazzie, Kamerosn Tsosie, and Issianna Brown.

Lady Sand Devils coaching staff is: Celeste Claw, head coach; Sylvester Begay, Bill Tresh, Ambrose Henderson, Torrance Begay and Allie Coldwell, assistant coaches.