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Lakey helps lead Cibola into the playoffs
Last season, Baylee Lakey watched in the stands as a sophomore as the Cibola girls basketball team advanced to the state tournament.
A year later, the junior Lakey is trying to help the Raiders get right back to the big dance.
The No. 7 Raiders face undefeated No. 2 Westview in the first round of the Arizona Interscholastic Association Division I Section I tournament at 7:30 p.m. today at Tolleson High School. A win would secure an automatic qualification for the state tournament for Cibola, which is ranked No. 23 in the state — meaning if two teams pull off upsets in the section tournament and Cibola loses, it would get bounced from the 24-team state tournament.
“We played them last year and they got everybody back,” Cibola coach Justin Hager said about the Knights. “They pretty much want the game to be controlled chaos.”
Westview, which finished 18-0 in AIA Power Point games and 30-0 overall, beat Cibola 55-24 in the section tournament in 2012.
“The pressure is on them, it's not on us,” Hager said. “They're 30-0.”
With a roster that lost eight players from last year, Hager is relying heavily on a player who didn't get any varsity time a season ago in Lakey.
“We were left with a lot of options so she had to step up,” Hager said. “After the Arcadia tournament up in Scottsdale, we played against some good competition up there and she doesn't back down against good competition.”
However, just because she didn't play in the games doesn't mean she didn't get any experience. As a sophomore, she was brought in to practice against the varsity posts — like seniors Brandi Badilla, Kelsey Pangerl and Savannah Miller.
“They helped me so much,” Lakey said, “because I was really weak and I had to be tough. They beat me up in practice against them. They were strong and they were big.”
Hager made Lakey a starter from Day 1 and despite a little bit of growing pains, the move has turned out well for the Raiders. Lakey finished the regular season averaging 8.2 points, 6.3 rebounds and more than a block a game to help Cibola win its seventh city championship in a row.
“We knew we had to win. That's what Cibola does,” Lakey said. “That's what we've been doing for seven years now, and it feels really good to be a part of it.”
The steady improvement over the course of the season is clear in the numbers Lakey has put up later in the year. In three of the final four games, Lakey grabbed more than 10 rebounds — including a double-double against Kofa (17 points, 12 rebounds) and San Luis (18 points, 14 rebounds). She also recorded an 11-point, 11-rebound performance in a win over Desert Mountain.
“Baylee has really been improving throughout the season, and we've been on her all season to keep pushing and be aggressive,” Hager said.
Perhaps where Lakey's impact has been greatest for the Raiders has been her ability to block shots. On the year, the Raider center has nine games with two or more blocks — including a game against Lake Havasu in which she finished with nine. In the Raiders' 49-46 win in the first meeting against Kofa, Lakey blocked a final King shot to secure the victory.
“I think just moving her feet and getting in the right spot has really helped her and anticipating the blocked shot — not just trying to swat it away,” Hager said of Lakey, who played for the Cibola volleyball team.
“I think with volleyball, I know how to time it better because before I would just go up and hope that I hit it,” Lakey said.
Whether it's swatting a shot away, hauling in a rebound and scoring in the post, Lakey has turned in a strong first season of varsity. Now all that's left is to secure a spot in the state tournament like the seniors she practiced with last year.
“I'm so used to having them and this year it's totally different,” Lakey said. “This year I'm the one doing what they did last year.”
Jesse Severson can be reached at email@example.com at 539-6881. Find him on Facebook at facebook.com/YSJesseSeverson.