Small schools tourney a big hit in Clarkdale

The future of Mingus Union High School basketball lies partially in the hands of coaches Rudy Sandoval and Vince Randall.

Respectively, Sandoval and Randall coach the seventh- and eighth-grade boys and girls teams at Clarkdale-Jerome.

It has been an exciting season thus far for both junior high teams. The boys have a current overall record of 16-7, with a conference record of 11-3. The girls are currently 12-6, and 7-6 in the league.

This year’s season will culminate with the annual Arizona Small Schools Tournament, hosted by the Rams, with games being played in Clarkdale and Middle Verde.

“It always has been and always will be for the little guys,” coach Randall said of the upcoming competition. The tournament will start on Thursday and will run through Saturday.

It will be the 18th year that Clarkdale-Jerome has played host. Designated for schools with 200 students or less, the tournament draws teams from all over Arizona. The first year started with only eight teams.

This year, 24 teams are expected to participate, encompassing six to seven conferences.

“We have a pretty good geographical representation,” coach Randall said. “From up near the Utah border to east of Tucson. And as far west as Quartzsite and as far east as White River.”

Clarkdale-Jerome started the tournament after a number of seasons participating in a “small-school” tournament in Phoenix. Many of the schools involved with that tournament had a student population of 500 to 600, which made it difficult for the truly smaller schools to have a showing.

The tournament also ran for up to two weeks, necessitating travel on school nights. So began Clarkdale-Jerome’s own small school tournament.

Last year, the Clarkdale boys team claimed the championship, and the girls were runner-up. This year looks promising as well.

“We started slow with a low number of girls, a lot of inexperience and throughout the season we are getting better,” coach Randall said.

The mid-season addition of Charmagne Gyce has brought their competitiveness up considerably. At the Tuba City tournament in January, Gyce was named All-Tournament.

For the boys, coach Rudy Sandoval has taken charge in his fifth year of coaching at Clarkdale-Jerome. Coach Sandoval credits a strong defense this year and point guard Lawrence Jackson for their success.

This past weekend, both teams played at the Regional Tournament in West Sedona. The girls team went up against No. 1 ranked Beaver Creek in their first game, and lost 45-41 in overtime.

“It was a well-played game,” coach Randall said. “The Beaver Creek team had to play its best game of the season to beat us, and it took them overtime to beat us.”

“They made the free throws, we didn’t,” Randall said of the loss.

The Clarkdale-Jerome girls end their season with a record of 13-7.

The boys team also lost their first game of regionals against West Sedona, losing by 20. That lead came in the first half, when Clarkdale was already down by 18 points and was never able to recover.

Both teams are currently ranked sixth in the region. Final placement will be determined after this weekend’s small school tournament.

Other teams in the boys bracket include West Sedona, Hotevilla Bacavi, Shonto, Greasewood, Red Mesa, Kayenta Community, Dilcon, Superior, Rock Point, Bagdad and Kaibeto.

Other teams in the girls bracket include Beaver Creek, Dilcon, Red Mesa, Tolani Lake, Superior, Kalbeto, Many Farms, Greasewood, Bagdad and Little Singer.

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