The decision weighed heavily on the shoulders of Yuma Catholic junior Madison Brazeel.
Two years ago, the night before winter sports were set to begin practice, the freshman Brazeel was looking at two pairs of shoes. There were her soccer cleats and her basketball shoes.
The following morning, she had to pick one or the other. Then she got as good of a sign as any.
“I was watching a Laker game and I thought I have to choose basketball. It's just kind of a sign.”
The 5-foot-5 junior has turned into a standout point guard for the Shamrocks, leading the team by averaging more than 20 points and nearly four assists a game. Earlier this season, Brazeel went off for 28 points in a 51-24 win over Mogollon, and the following night she scored 27 in a two-point loss to Seligman. In a 54-27 win over Gila Bend, Brazeel scored 20 on 7 for 13 shooting — but also added 10 assists on the night.
“She makes us tick. She's our point guard and our leader out there,” Yuma Catholic coach Bob McGalliard said. “Now that she's a junior, she's really blossomed into what we do. Her leadership role has really stepped up and it should. She's a junior and a captain.”
There is a comforting feeling that having Brazeel gives Yuma Catholic. If things are stressful or the game's tempo looks like it could be heading out of control, the Shamrocks can just give the ball to their junior point guard.
“I'm kind of a person who has to be in control so I'm not just sitting there waiting, anticipating it,” said Brazeel, who also plays volleyball and runs track at Yuma Catholic. “That's my job, to make people move and direct them in the right direction. It's a lot of pressure every game, but a true athlete has to understand whether they can handle it.”
“We're pretty rough on her in practice because I hate to say it, but you always expect more out of your better players,” McGalliard said. “Madison plays the most demanding position on the court. She's our point guard and our quarterback.”
But despite her skill on the court, there was some question as to whether or not she'd end up with the Shamrocks basketball team. She had played soccer from the time she was 4 years old until eighth grade. Basketball, on the other hand, was picked up in fourth grade.
Her brothers — Michael and Mackenzie — played basketball, and the fast pace of the game intrigued her. It was a decision she admits she thought about every day.
And those around her joined in the figurative tug-of-war.
“My best friend Makena said, ‘Oh come on, we're going to have so much fun. Do this with me,'” Brazeel said of Makena Zamora, who plays on the basketball team. “Then the soccer coach talked to me. So it was a lot of stress on me.”
Especially at a school the size of Yuma Catholic, an athlete of Brazeel's caliber would a valuable asset to either the basketball or soccer team — and a blow for the sport that she decided against. She even said that later, during her sophomore season, she caught a Shamrocks soccer match and part of her missed the game. Luckily for McGalliard, she chose basketball — and gave him a player to build around.
“Madison has been a starter for us since day one and has done an outstanding job for us,” he said. “I'm delighted she decided on basketball.”
But Brazeel is confident she made the right decision. In fact, it doesn't take much for her to remind herself of that.
“I think about it every time I come on the court. I love it.”