By Raymundo Frasquillo
MORENCI – Those who had the pleasure of watching the Morenci Wildcats girls basketball team play this year got to witness a national leader at work.
Morenci missed the state playoffs after falling by a point during a play-in home game, concluding its season Feb. 10, a week before the state meet first round. The Wildcats’ 26-game 2017 campaign ended with a 16-10 overall record.
However, on the Wildcats’ starting line-up, clad in jersey No. 2., senior Stephanie Aaliyah Manuz averaged 10 assists through 22 games to end third overall in the nation and was first in the nation for seniors, and led all classes in the state, according to statistics compiled by MaxPreps.com.
Manuz totaled 219 assists with a 10.0 per-game average. She ended behind California San Bernardino Arroyo Valley sophomore Hailey Vergara’s 10.3 assists per game (258, 25 games) and Mississippi Greenwood Amanda Elzy sophomore Keyera McCline’s 10.2 per game (255, 25 games).
She handed out 12 assists, plus five rebounds and two points during the team’s loss to the Keams Canyon Hopi Bruins. She posted double-digit assists in 11 games, with a season-high 14 thrice, against Willcox (Dec. 6), Heber Mogollon (Dec.9) and Bisbee (Jan. 7), plus 12 four times, 11 three times and 10 once. Her season low was 5.
“Manuz is extremely dedicated,” Morenci head coach Steve Chavez said. “She’s the first one at practice and the last one to leave. She could play at the next level if she wanted to. She wants to go into sports medicine and is one of the school’s top students with a high grade-point average. She has a bright future.”
Some teams use a two-guard front, but not Morenci. “We used a one-guard front,” Chavez said.
“Manuz is a two-year captain and is a true point guard, passing the ball off and feeding her teammates,” he said. “She is very unselfish and sacrificed individual points for her teammates. The 4-year player enjoyed getting assists.”
“Several coaches would ask me why she didn’t shoot more; she could have taken a lot of shots. When I asked her during a time out or after the game, she said her teammate was closer.”
Manuz was the only Arizona player averaging double-digit assists. Behind her at No. 2 was Flagstaff Coconino (26-4) senior Jacqulynn Nakai with a 7.4 average (200, 27 games), No. 3 Scottsdale Chaparral (26-4) senior Kylie Fisher with 6.7 (114, 17 games), No. 4 Gilbert Mesquite (29-1) junior Shaylee Gonzales with 6.6 (198, 30 games), No. 5 Tucson Pueblo (26-2) junior Ilyssa Diamond Gallindo with 6.3 (175, 28 games), No. 6 Phoenix Country Day (23-8) senior Emma Sheridan with 6.2 (181, 29 games), No. 7 Phoenix Sierra Linda (26-2) senior Jenay Bojorquez with 6.2 (155, 25 games), No. 8 Maricopa (22-5) junior Sydni Callis with 5.7 (149, 26 games), No. 9 Gilbert (26-2) sophomore Haley Cavinder with 5.6 (158, 28 games) and No. 10 Scottsdale Horizon (17-11) sophomore Alyssa Alvarez with 5.3 (79, 15 games).
Chandler Valley Christian (24-3) senior Angie Andreas was 11th with 5.3 (126, 24 games), Cave Creek Cactus Shadows (25-4) junior Caitlin Bickle 12th with 5.1 (142, 28 games), Glendale Ironwood (21-6) senior Danielle Cassidy 13th with 5.0 (121, 24 games), Ganado (21-10) senior JaeLynn Curley14th with 5.0 (141, 28 games), Prescott (9-17) junior Abigail Chartier 15th with 5.0 (130, 26 games), Tucson Palo Verde Magnet (11-15) sophomore Aaliyah Ortiz 16th with 4.9 (113, 23 games), Safford (19-7) sophomore Deion Abalos 17th with 4.9 (88, 18 games), Scottsdale Arcadia (26-3) junior Bryce Nixon 18th with 4.9 (141, 29 games), Scottsdale Christian (22-5) senior Jacqueline Lafrate 19th with 4.8 (110, 23 games) and Gilbert Leading Edge (29-2) senior Brielle McKinney 20th with 4.8 (100, 21 games).
The rest of the top 25 included Anthem Prep (14-7) sophomore Brenna Pillsbury at 21st with 4.7 (17, 16 games), Kearny Ray (20-9) freshman Shelby Yocum 22nd with 4.6 (128, 28 games), Sanders Valley (23-2) sophomore Valiyah Yazzie 23rd with 4.5 (104, 23 games), Gilbert sophomore Hanna Cavinder 24th with 4.5 (126, 28 games), and Sandra Day O’Conner (18-10) junior Grace Lyons 25th with 4.5 (107, 24 games).
The players in the state’s top 25 assist category hail from all programs, with four from Division VI, six (D-V), five (D-IV), three (D-III), five (D-II), and two (D-I). In the final rankings for all divisions, 41 teams were in Division VI, 43 (D-V), 44 (D-IV), 37 (D-III), 50 (D-II, and 43 (D-I).
Division II Morenci was rated 92nd of 258 Arizona schools fielding a girl’s basketball program and didn’t make the state tourney. Division VI Gilbert was 2nd, Horizon 19th, and Sandra Day O’Conner 36th; Division V Mesquite 3rd, Sierra Linda 8th, Arcadia 19th, Chaparral 22nd, Maricopa 45th, and Ironwood 47th; Division IV Cactus Shadows 7th, Coconino 22nd, Pueblo 26th, Prescott 147th, Palo Verde Magnet 151st; Division III Valley Christian 17th, Ganado 25th, and Safford 37th; Division II Sanders 10th, Leading Edge 52nd, Scottsdale Christian 67th, and Phoenix Country Day 86th and Division I Ray 118th and Anthem Prep 131st.
Not all coaches post their teams’ statistics online for various reasons.
“The A.I.A. uses them to select section and division teams,” Chavez said. “That’s why I send them in and to get some recognition for the girls.”
The rest of the national top 10 included New York Ossining sophomore Jaida Strippoli fourth with 9.3 (185, 25 games), Mississippi Magee senior Ciara Norwood fifth with 9.2 (212, 23 games), Virginia Chesapeake Atlantic Shores Christian sophomore Chaniqwa Gilliam sixth with 9.0 (233, 26 games), Texas Houston Wheatley freshman Telisha Brown seventh with 8.5 (273, 32 games), California Spring Valley Mount Miguel junior Laila Smith eighth with 8.5 (170, 20 games), California San Bernardino Cajon junior Caitlyn Saucedo ninth with 8.4 (236, 28 games), and Georgia Ashburn Turner County freshman Miya Byrd 10th with 8.3 (192, 23 games).