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Mesa Ridge guard Ifti Dunne never settled
Ifti Dunne’s trek to becoming the senior captain for the 20-0 Mesa Ridge Grizzlies girls’ basketball team started at the bottom -- the fingernail-scrapping bottom.
After years of mightily struggling on the court, no one would have blamed her if she quit. No one would have scolded her if she moved on to something new. In fact, no one would have thought twice about it.
But if you knew Dunne personally, you knew she couldn’t -- she loved this game too much.
“It was my life. I want to play basketball,” Dunne said. “And my dad always told me to ‘Never settle, even if it gets hard.’”
As a freshman, Dunne didn’t possess ball-handling skills or a confident shot. She wasn’t a threat with her 5-foot-7 size or her average speed. And after playing for only two years prior to her first year of high school, she faced a harsh reality.
“I was by far the worst girl on the team,” she said. “I was awful. From there, I did everything to get better.”
That offseason, Dunne began a practice regimen that had her working on her game for 22 hours a week – two hours a day during the week and six hours per day on the weekend.
Led by her dad, Seth Dunne, she started each practice with ball handling.
“It doesn’t matter what you can do if you can’t hold onto the ball,” she says, recalling her dad’s guidance.
From there she moved to shooting, followed by mental drills – which was never her favorite part of the practice.
“If I’d mess up or something he’d chuck the ball across the court. And I’d get frustrated,” she said laughingly. “He said, ‘You always have to keep calm even when things aren’t going just right.’”
Then during her sophomore year, Dunne began playing in pickup games against guys at the gym, “getting beat pretty good” in most of them, she admits.
But even so, she kept to her grueling practice schedule day after day, and by junior year she made the varsity team.
“She was our fourth or fifth girl off the bench,” Mesa Ridge coach Jeff Beatty said. “She was good in practice, but it didn’t quite translate to the game.”
That season she averaged two points. Some thought she may have hit her ceiling.
“From where she was from freshman year to then, was amazing,” said Beatty, who was an assistant for two years at Mesa Ridge before taking the head job last season. “I haven’t seen a girl improve that much in my time as a coach.”
But Dunne wasn’t finished. She kept playing and practicing, and kept improving through the offseason. In the gym, she began to fly past and drain shots over bigger guys, gaining more and more confidence with every swish.
And when the senior began practicing with her teammates this season, they were stunned.
“She was great. The past couple years I mean maybe you’d be even a little hesitant to go to her with the ball,” third-year varsity point guard Gabby Purnell said. “But not anymore. If you saw her play, you knew that quickly.”
Now, Dunne starts alongside Purnell. The two have provided the Grizzlies with one of the best guard tandems in the state. Dunne averages nearly nine points for a Grizzlies team with an eye on a state title.
Faced with the home stretch, Beatty didn’t hesitate when asked if he trusted the ball late in games to Dunne, a player who never settled.
“You bet I would,” he said.