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Cibola girls basketball poised for postseason run

Cibola girls basketball has long had its share of success. They’ve put together 20-win seasons, postseason berths, had multiple student-athletes play at the collegiate level, and finished as state runners up in 1992, fewer than five years after the school first opened its doors.

Still, rarely have any of those seasons compared to this.

As the Lady Raiders wrapped up their regular season on Feb. 5, they were poised to host a postseason play-in game as a top 12 seed in the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s most prolific conference (6A). They went 16-2 in AIA games, setting a high water mark for the school, and, including tournaments, won 20 games or more for the fourth time since 2013-14. CHS basketball practice

“It’s exciting times,” fourth-year head coach Anthony Gerg said. “Our girls, we want to put them in a position to be as consistent as possible. We have four core values: having a positive attitude, your effort every day, your sacrifice, and competition.”

Five seniors have embodied those values for the duration of Gerg’s tenure. There’s lead guard Arlyssa Underwood, who Gerg said is the team’s “floor general.” There’s Rylee Lakey, Cibola’s post who blocks more than 2.5 shots per game and was 0.7 points per game shy of averaging a double-double this season. There’s Marissa Gash, their stat-filling forward. There’s Christina Lopez, one of the team’s leaders despite playing just 7 minutes per game. And there’s Arianne Burgos, who helped rally the Lady Raiders to an overtime victory over Dobson High School last week with a tying 3-pointer in the final seconds of regulation.

“I’ve had all these girls for four years and it’s the first time seeing the program as consistent as it is with Rylee, Arlyssa, Arianne, Marissa, and Christina, those five seniors,” Gerg added. “They know what my expectations are and they’ve carried it, and put it upon themselves to communicate with the younger girls and hopefully those juniors take it when they leave. That’s what we are trying to build.”

The Dobson victory could be the kind of thing that propels the Lady Raiders going forward. They trailed by five points with 17 seconds remaining and “kept battling,” according to Lakey, who had 13 rebounds for her fifth double-double of the season. Underwood had 13 assists and Burgos scored a team-high 12 points, including her 3-pointer that sent the game to overtime. The Lady Raiders doubled up Dobson from there, winning, 49-45, and ensuring they’d earn at least a top 16 ranking, which is necessary to host a play-in game to reach the state tournament.

“I think it’s going to give us good [momentum], especially going into the playoffs and try to meet one of our goals which is making it farther than we did last year,” Lakey said.

The Lady Raiders lost to North High School in the play-in round last season. But that was a group of several underclassmen alongside current Arizona Western College player, Cailynn Stuebs, and Mori Gordon, who accepted a track scholarship to Wheeling Jesuit in West Virginia.  

Last season’s experience has shaped the current group.

“Everybody is working hard and whenever they come onto the court they give it their all,” Underwood said. “Whenever someone makes a mistake, we all just help them back up and tell them to keep going. We push each other to be better.”

And they’ve gotten better as the season has progressed, winning eight of their final nine games.  

“We want our girls to compete with each other every day in practice and it gets intense,” Gerg said. “These girls grind for a whole season and to see it come together and have a record of [16-2] and have a chance to go to the playoffs and showcase outside of Yuma is really exciting for the girls. It puts it into perspective to work even harder.”

Eric Patten