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Lady Mules determined to end postseason blues

Muleshoe’s Sara Benham, averaging 19 points and 8.5 rebounds, is drawing the interest of several Division I programs. CNJ staff photo by Rick White.

Muleshoe has fashioned an 82-18 record the last three seasons with an up-tempo style that batters teams into mental and physical submission.

“Creative chaos” is what Muleshoe coach Shana Simms calls Muleshoe’s signature style — 32 minutes of in-your-face, baseline-to-baseline defense and a fast-breaking offense.

Despite graduating two-thirds of a dominating front line, the Lady Mules (28-5) haven’t skipped a beat in 2003-04 behind the play of all-state post Sara Benham and a scrappy supporting cast.

But the last two seasons have ended in disappointment with losses in the Class 3A regional quarterfinals.

“This team is different,” Simms said. “They’re really focused and truly have banded together. They don’t care who scores. They don’t care if Sara gets the limelight. They just want to win.”

Muleshoe plays Sweetwater (25-6) in the area round of Regional I-3A girls basketball tournament Friday at Post High School.

Benham, a 6-foot post, is averaging 19 points and 8.5 rebounds. Her combination of size and athleticism (30-inch vertical leap) is drawing interest from a bevy of colleges.

She said teams are making a mistake if they just focus on her.

“When they try to stop me we have plenty of other people who can step up,” Benham said. “We have two other posts who can score inside and our guards can really step up and hit some shots.”

Junior post Kelsi Friskup adds 10.3 points and 6.7 rebounds while senior Tori Barton (10 ppg) is the team’s top outside shooter.

Benham knows the Lady Mules have something to prove after being eliminated one game short of a coveted spot in the Region I-3A tournament held at United Spirit Arena in Lubbock, which essentially is the round of 16 in Texas.

“We definitely don’t want to come up short like we did last year,” Benham said.

Junior point guard Lindsey Wood said the third-ranked Lady Mules are confident they can put their postseason blues behind them.

“We know we can beat the teams we are playing,” said Wood, whose sister Kasey and cousin Brandi also play on the team. “We just need to focus on the team we’re playing and not the team we want to play.”

The Lady Mules finished unbeaten and rarely challenged in District 2-3A for a second-straight year. But Simms feels a tough preseason slate that included a second-place finish in the 32-team Caprock Holiday tournament in Lubbock has her team ready for the pressures of postseason play.

“I really feel good about where we are headed as a team,” Simms said. “I feel we’re still getting better every game.

“The last couple of years toward the end of district I thought we were on a little bit of a down slide.”

Standing in the way of Muleshoe and the school’s first trip to the State Tournament in Austin, in which only the top four teams go, is defending state champion Canyon.

“I really think we can beat Canyon,” Simms said. “In the past I don’t know if we thought we could.”

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