New Mexico Dogs Advance from the Desert to U.S. Open Girls Basketball Championship
Four years ago, a small group of girls and two coaches came together in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to form a basketball team. The girls were young, only halfway through elementary school, but they were interested in the sport and wanted to improve. So, a journey began.
A year later, several more joined their ranks to build a roster of seven, and the journey continued.
In those four years, the New Mexico Dogs have never lost a game to another team of girls their own age.
Their latest accomplishment might be their best. The Dogs recently qualified for the USA Basketball 2018 U.S. Open Basketball Championships in Westfield, Indiana, by winning a qualifying tournament in Phoenix. They will compete for a national title at the 12 and under level, July 19-22.
“They’re sisters in every single way,” coach Melissa Sisneros said. “They’re nice to each other on the court. That’s where their best attributes are.”
Why do the players believe they’re successful?
“We’re always together, and we’re like sisters and everything that happens, we just push through it,” said Melissa’s daughter, Samantha.
This isn’t just a story about basketball. The New Mexico Dogs also serve their community. They do charity work, such as volunteering at homeless shelters or Ronald McDonald House. They’ve made food for cancer patients, and the girls do all of the work with little to no help from coaches or parents.
“I like them to do things where they can see the final product, so they can understand empathy,” Melissa Sisneros said.
The coaches also pick out books for the team to read together when players are off the court. The books usually have an underlying message about bonding, trust and teamwork.
Through their love of the game and their desire to be successful, they have learned a work ethic. While other friends outside of basketball were sleeping in on a recent Saturday morning in June, the Dogs were up early running.
“We just love each other and love the game of basketball, and that’s our sport,” said Jasmine Gipson, a member of the team.
With only seven players on the team and often competing against rosters of 10, 12 or 14, conventional wisdom might call for the Dogs to slow things down with a precision half-court game to save energy. But, that’s not their style. They like to speed things up by pressing much of the time and forcing opponents to make mistakes.
They work well on both ends of the court by forcing turnovers defensively and sharing the ball with unselfishness and an artistic passing ability to find the open player.
“They’re used to it,” Sisneros said. “When you travel with that few players, they know they’re not going to have breaks. They know that sometimes there will only be one sub. With one sub, you have to be able to leave it all out on that court, or you’re not going to have that stamina to last through those games.”
They have created even more work for themselves by qualifying for the U.S. Basketball Open Championship. The girls have sold popcorn, burritos and water and held car washes in an effort to earn the money to travel to the tournament. They’ve conducted all of these fundraising tasks before in order to pay for uniforms and other travel. This time they have opened themselves to help by starting a GoFundMe campaign.
Coaches say one of the biggest challenges with the team at this point is fighting through complacency. When a team wins often, young minds can begin to believe they don’t have to work as hard anymore.
“Sometimes we remind them that we may feel like we’re the best here locally, but there are teams all over the United States with the same hopes and dreams and goals that they have,” assistant coach Hannah Sprung said. “We have to keep working. We haven’t seen kids from the East Coast yet. We don’t know how big they actually are. We can’t just assume that we are the best because we might feel like we’re the best here. There is always somebody ready to take your spot. Out here, we kind of have other teams set on beating the dogs and, ‘How can we beat the Dogs?’
“So, you always have to keep pushing yourself at the same level you did when you first started, and you can’t just be satisfied with being the best right now. You always have something you can be taught.”
Kyle Ringo is a freelance contributor to USAB.com on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.