Coach Rodriguez Resigns
By Daniel Dullum
As the only senior on this season’s edition of Apache Junction girls basketball, Valentina Valenzuela had the honor of seeing her name in giant letters above the bleachers along the west wall of the AJHS gym.
“It was like reality hit, because I’m a senior,” Valenzuela said.
Valenzuela, and her AJ teammates, wrapped up their season on a winning note on Jan. 31, as the Lady Prospectors held off San Tan Valley Combs 44-37.
The win gave Apache Junction a 6-4 Black Canyon Region record, 9-9 overall.
Valenzuela and Kylee Vanwormer each scored 12 points to lead AJ.
“I couldn’t do it without my team, passing me the ball,” Valenzuela said. “It’s so nice.”
Apache Junction used a 7-0 run, sparked by a Vanwormer 3-pointer followed by layups by McKayla Adams and Vanwormer, to break a 32-32 deadlock late in the fourth quarter.
The Coyotes pulled to within 40-37 on a Theresa Dela Cruz jumper with 32 seconds remaining, but Valenzuela made a pair of layups in the last 18 seconds to give the Lady Prospectors a six-point cushion as time ran out.
Dela Cruz led Combs (4-21 overall, 2-8 region) with 14 points.
“To me, it was all about the defensive end,” AJ Coach Victor Rodriguez said. “In the first half, I was trying to do it with a man press. Then we went to the zone press and it took their guards longer to read it. As fast as we are on the back side, they couldn’t get past us.
“We have a lot of heart,” he continued. “We just need to work on sharing the ball a little better and take good shots. We beat them on pressure and defense.”
Rodriguez ended his two-year stint as Lady Prospectors coach with the win over Combs. In two seasons at the helm, Rodriguez wound up with a 13-28 overall record.
“It was a good experience,” Rodriguez said. “As a whole, the team just isn’t buying into my way, how I want to play, how I want to coach. Cardio is the biggest thing. I preach it, I profess it. It’s what I believe makes a difference.
“It’s kind of bittersweet, because of what I thought we could do. I believe they have enough talent that they should be hanging region banners regularly. These girls have talent, they have ability. The work ethic and drive is where it comes from.”
Rodriguez continued, “The stuff that I do, the summer ball that I coach, it’s all about conditioning and cardio. It’s a matter of whether or not you want to pay that price, and it just became clear that some of them didn’t want to work. That’s truly what it came down to.”
The decision to step down, Rodriguez said, was made in December.
“I had a lot of dissention, girls not showing up to practice, not wanting to do workouts,” Rodriguez said. “You have to have players who want to buy in and work for the same things that you do. I’ve run into it here where my expectations were greater than theirs, which it should be. You should shoot for the moon. If you don’t, you shouldn’t be in coaching at all.”
As for a silver lining, Rodriguez said, “After the early part of the season, we were never blown out of any games. They’re competitive, and doing what a coach would want of them. I just wanted more.
“I feel good about what I’ve done here. I’m leaving the place better than how I found it. I think they’re better players. Maybe the way the new coach comes in, he or she will approach it in a way they can accept.”
Photo above: Apache Junction’s Valentina Valenzuela is honored on Senior Night prior to the Lady Prospectors’ season finale against Combs. (Photo by Bill Wooster)