Tyrone Johnson and Martin Reyes want their teams to keep improving now that the second half of the regular season is underway, and they are looking at Friday's crosstown rivalry game between their squads as a learning opportunity.
Johnson's Flagstaff Eagles (7-2, 5-0 Grand Canyon Region) are coming off a solid 54-28 victory over region opponent Mingus Union, allowing just three points scored against them in the first half of Tuesday's game in Cottonwood. Before getting back into the regular season, Flagstaff spent time in Nevada during the holiday break putting in work.
The longtime Flagstaff girls basketball coach, whose team is ranked fifth in the 4A Conference heading into Friday, said his team's weaknesses were exposed once it started facing tougher competition outside of the tourney's pool play.
“I definitely think we learned a lot, but whether we got better during that time remains to be seen. It just depends on what we do,” Johnson said.
The 21st-ranked Panthers (6-3, 3-2 Grand Canyon) are also coming off a dominant win to restart the regular-season schedule, having beaten 4A Marcos de Niza on Monday in the Valley behind a 30-point night from sophomore Kiana Manuelito.
"We also have had good practices and it was nice to get Marcos de Niza in because we have not played since like December 21st," Reyes said.
Many of Manuelito's buckets were generated off turnovers against Marcos de Niza, and the Panthers, known for their intensity on D, have been averaging just about 40 points allowed per game in the last five contests while going 2-3 during the stretch.
Looking to complete the regular-season sweep of their crosstown rival for the second straight year, the Eagles are averaging 51.6 points per outing in the last five games, going 3-2 in that duration.
Sheridan Edgewater, a senior, has been catching fire for the Eagles, drilling 3-pointers at a high rate since the Nevada tourney in addition to connection on three from long range on the way to a game-high 15 points against Mingus.
Both Manuelito and Edgewater have bigger roles on their teams this time around compared to when the teams met last year.
A year ago, Edgewater and Manuelito combined for just four points in the two crosstown games. Both coaches hope to see continued success from their shooters, especially in the raucous environment the rivalry games create.
Johnson, overall, wants his team to face the test with an eagerness to grow from it.
“Hopefully, come February, these things we are preaching now become second-nature to us," he said.
And he'd like to see if the team's chemistry can really start to take shape, as some players such as Hailey Armus are back to playing more minutes.
“Some of the other girls have been in and out whether it be due to injury, illness or ineligibility, so we are trying to find a rotation and a lineup that gels," Johnson said. "So we are still figuring that out. I don’t believe we’ve arrived at our best as far as lineups and rotations yet."
While the Eagles are getting back to full strength, the Panthers are lacking one of their key players. In fact, Coconino might be without Oniah Barton-Paddock for the rest of the season, as she and the team decided to part ways during the holiday break, with the sophomore absent against Marcos de Niza.
Barton-Paddock was also one of the few Coconino players who were part of the past crosstown games.
“For the most part, we have most of the girls experiencing this for the first time at the varsity level – which is good," Reyes said.
While seniors Maya Tijerin and Kenzie Palmer will provide the young Panthers team some experience, other players who have shown growth such as Mahala Long will be immersed in the crosstown action more heavily or for the first time ever.
So for the Coconino coach, it's about making sure his team is ready to go by the time tipoff on Friday comes around.
“I know Coach Johnson will have his girls ready to go, they always are, and hopefully we can respond and do good things," Reyes said.
Tipoff for Friday's game is set for 5:30 p.m. at Flagstaff's War Memorial Gymnasium.