GRAND CANYON, Ariz. — The Grand Canyon Phantoms basketball teams once again kicked off their seasons this year at the Route 66 Holiday Classic tournament in Williams, Arizona, Nov. 30 – Dec. 2.
It was a learning experience for both teams, agreed head coaches Rosie Evans and Dave Perkins.
Perkins, in his second year coaching the boys team, said he saw improvement from last year. The Phantoms defeated Ash Fork 37-33 in the first round of the tournament. Senior Neegoh Kaska, who was named Player of the game, contributed 13 points in the winning effort, followed by junior Aleryn Reid with nine points and sophomore Rufus Keebahe with seven points.
“I see great improvement from the team as a whole,” Perkins said. “It was particularly impressive to see the boys compete so well in close games.”
The Phantoms lost to Joseph City 42-22 in the second game Nov. 30, behind 10 points from senior Travis Moreno and 11 rebounds from sophomore Melakai Longhoma. The team bounced back with a close competition against El Capitan the following morning, losing 48-43. The team was led by Moreno with 10 points, including two 3-point shots. Kaska pulled down 14 rebounds and had three blocked shots. Unfortunately, Moreno went down with an injury and missed the final two games of the tournament.
Perkins said he was pleased with the leadership shown by Reid after Moreno was lost to injury.
Reid contributed 13 points in a blowout against Needles, which the Phantoms lost 72-36, drawing praise from the opposing team’s coach.
Against the Basis Yeti, who twice embarrassed the Phantoms last season, the Phantoms showed some spark. Longhoma was the key contributor, with eight points and 11 rebounds, six of them offensive. Reid had six assists, the most by a Phantom player in the last two seasons, and was 4 of 2 from the free throw line.
Reid was selected as the Phantoms’ player of the tournament.
Perkins said the team felt the loss of Moreno, but hope to have him back later in the season.
“It’s a shame to see talented players miss time, especially a senior, like Travis,” he said. “His leadership abilities are beyond what I have ever seen from a high school athlete.”
The Lady Phantoms coasted through the tournament for a spot in the championship game against the Hopi High Lady Bruins. The Lady Phantoms won the tournament after eking out a tough win over the Bruins 50-48 Dec. 2.
The Lady Phantoms blew out the Ash Fork Lady Spartans 44-27 to kick off the tournament, with sophomore Cayli Miles scoring more than half the team’s points with 24. Meme Jeter-Nanacasia contributed 11 points, six rebounds and nine steals.
That’s just what Evans was expecting.
“They met my expectations and played hard,” Evans said. “We’re going to continue to work on team chemistry on the court and a positive attitude both on and off the court.”
The Lady Phantoms notched a 20-point win over Joseph City 55-35, in which the team outscored the Wildcats consistently through four quarters. Jeter-Nanacasia led the team with 16 points and 12 rebounds, while Miles went 7-for-7 from the floor with 15 points. Freshman Kara Austin pulled in eight rebounds.
The team showed the same consistency the following day, defeating the El Capitan Eagles 59-32 behind a strong effort from Miles (18 points and four steals) and freshman Savannah Longhoma (15 points and eight rebounds).
Evans said Monica Dimas-Gonzalez was also tough on the boards, bringing down a total of 44 rebounds during the tournament.
The Lady Phantoms defeated San Pasqual Valley 51-36 to earn a spot in the championship game Dec. 2. Longhoma had a breakout game, scoring 22 points and hauling in four rebounds. She was also 4-for-4 from the free throw line.
The championship game came down to the wire, but Evans said the girls’ mental and emotional toughness won out.
Jeter-Nanacasia, Miles and Longhoma led the way with 18, 17 and 11 points, respectively, and made for a combined 16 of 25 free throws. Both Jeter-Nanacasia and Miles were 2-for-3 from the 3-point line. Austin pulled in 11 rebounds, followed by both Jessica Ross-Mentor and Jeter-Nanacasia with nine.
After leading by 7 at the half, the Lady Phantoms were outscored by the Bruins in the third quarter. The team came back, overtaking the Lady Bruins in the last quarter.
“They worked together and never gave up on moments where their mental and emotional toughness was needed to sustain their physical strength,” Evans said.