Lady Horsemen overcome lack of size with quickness

December 7, 2018

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 surroundings 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.”

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