Sierra’s D’Nae Wilson plays with more competitive fire than you’d expect from her 5-foot-3 frame.
Her ball handling, range and fierceness in the paint came in handy on Tuesday when her Stallions needed a push in a first-round Class 4A clash against No. 48 Cheyenne Mountain. Her efforts ultimately helped No. 17 Sierra claim a 54-41 win over the Indians.
With the clock winding down in the second quarter, Wilson picked the pocket of 5-foot-11 Cheyenne Mountain point guard Selena Vargas at midcourt and ran it in for an easy layup. Wilson, a junior point guard, doesn’t shy away from battling opponents a head taller than her - a characteristic she’s honed since she was in middle school.
“I play a lot bigger than what I think I am,” Wilson said. “I play like I’m 6-foot. I've always been a small one so I just have to stay aggressive and strong and I know I can out-hustle people.”
The Stallions walked into the locker room at halftime of their first-round game with a comfortable nine-point lead, but a few runs in the third put Cheyenne Mountain back in the hunt.
The Indians’ third-quarter comeback was led by Vargas and Katelynn Ralston, who scored nine and five points in the quarter, respectively. Vargas scored seven to put the Indians within three with less than two minutes to play in the third. She hit another layup at the buzzer to give Sierra a slim two-point lead heading into the fourth.
“I knew we had to play stronger defense,” said Wilson, who finished with 16 points. “We are a pretty good defensive team but tonight heads were all over the place. We just couldn’t get into the jump on defense, but once we got that jump we knew we had them stopped. We’re a better team in transition so defense has to fuel our offense first.”
A free throw by Gwen Johnson kicked off a lengthy Sierra run.
“We played in spurts today and we got the runs when we needed them thankfully,” said Sierra coach Joseph Williams. “We can play a lot better than we did, especially with the experience we have.”
Azaria Lacour finished with 12 points for the Stallions, and Gyani Sami scored nine. Cheyenne Mountain was led by Ralston who scored 16. Vargas followed with 12.
The Stallions have big goals for their playoff run as they hope to be the first team in program history to make it to the final four.
But for Williams, Tuesday’s game brought back a few frustrating memories from last year’s playoff, which could have threatened Sierra’s run.
“It kind of reminded me a lot of last year’s game at Windsor,” said Williams, recalling last year’s third-round game in which Sierra was outscored 18-6 in the third quarter, heading to the final frame tied at 44. “I just had to let them find their way. We had to go back to what we were doing in the second quarter and stay in front of them.”
But thankfully for the Stallions they found a way out of the rut on both occasions. On Tuesday it was thanks in part to an 11-0 run midway through the fourth, which gave the team some breathing room.
A 3-pointer by Wilson to put Sierra up by 12 proved to be the nail in the coffin for Cheyenne Mountain.
Williams said Wilson is often overlooked by teams because of her height.
“When they do that she makes them pay,” Williams said. “She feels they discredit her because of her height and she gets another chip on her shoulder and turns it up a notch.”
Williams said even though Wilson comes from a talented family and has natural ability in the sport, she is still one of the team’s hardest workers.
“She made a comment a couple years ago to one of her teammates who was taller and said, ‘If I had your height I would be a McDonald’s All-American’,” Williams said.
Sierra will face No. 16 Sand Creek on Friday in the second round. The Stallions and Scorpions met in the regular season, with Sierra falling in overtime, 64-60.
“We just have to make sure we keep our tempo and don’t fall into playing their style of basketball,” Wilson said. “That’s what kept us in the game today. That game (against Sand Creek) slipped through our fingertips so we have to key in on them this week and focus.”
Williams said in the back of his mind he’s happy to have the opportunity to get that overtime loss back in the second round.
“It’s going to be a game,” Williams said. “Both of the teams know each other and it’s going to be like a little nonconference rivalry.”