Salpointe makes history by winning first girls state championship

PHOENIX — Not since Salpointe Catholic started female athletics in 1953 with the Girls Athletic Association has the school earned the label of a state champion in basketball.

“It’s extremely special,” Salpointe coach Joseph Luevano said while holding the 4A state championship trophy on Monday night.

“My kids have gone to school for four years, my seniors, with softball state champions, volleyball state champions, soccer state champions and they have not been able to get there. … They put in so much work. They are the hardest working team and it shows.”

The first girls basketball state championship in Salpointe history was achieved in a 65-48 win over Flagstaff at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

The Lancers produced one of the most legendary of local girls basketball players — Sybil Dosty — who took the Lancers to the state championship game in 2002-03 under coach Pete Fajardo. They ran into a 35-0 Gilbert Highland team that edged the Lancers 41-38 for the title.

Salpointe reached the state championship game last year but faced Karen Self’s dynasty Seton Catholic in the championship game, losing 70-62.

Nothing stopped Salpointe this time. The Lancers ended their season on a 14-game winning streak to finish 24-4.

“I’m speechless right now,” said senior guard Kylee Callahan, who led the Lancers with 19 points on 7-of-14 shooting from the field and also pulled down seven rebounds and posted four assists.

“We have worked so fricking hard. It took all four years but it was all worth it.”

Kylee Callahan had 19 points to lead Salpointe to the 4A state title (Andy Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Callahan is one of the top senior guards in the state, and her experience along with fellow senior starter Tessa Hastings, helped propel the Lancers to the state title.

Salpointe’s youth, however, is what will likely carry the Lancers to more opportunities for state championships in the future.

Bria Medina, who had 16 points and six assists, will return in 2022-23 as a senior point guard.

Salpointe’s freshmen post players Taliyah Henderson and Hannah Williams will have their names mentioned often over the next three years.

Henderson, who is already getting recruiting interest from Division I programs, finished with 14 points and 16 rebounds while Williams finished with nine rebounds. The 6-foot players were a significant reason why Salpointe finished with a 52-24 rebounding edge over Flagstaff. The Lancers had 17 second-chance points and outscored Flagstaff 38-14 in the paint.

“I thought it was a pretty amazing experience especially in my freshman year,” Henderson said. “It was me and my team. We put in the work individually and together. We prepared for this, watched film, and I think we overall accomplished our goal.”

The turning point for the Lancers was a 21-1 run in the second half in which they turned a 12-9 deficit into a 30-13 halftime lead.

In that pivotal run, Henderson had seven of her eight points in the first half and Medina and Callahan each had four points in transition.

Salpointe overcame a first quarter in which it trailed 9-7 after committing eight turnovers. The Lancers had only four turnovers in the second quarter.

“I think we just realized that we had a slow start in the first quarter and we had to pick it up,” Medina said. “We all came together and realized we had to step up our game and we did.”

Hasting punctuated the dominance in the second quarter — in which Salpointe outscored Flagstaff 23-4 — with a 3-pointer as time expired.

Flagstaff (29-3) cut Salpointe’s lead to 40-30 on a 3-pointer by Gracelyn Nez with 3:00 left in the the third quarter, but the Eagles came no closer.

Medina and Callahan helped stave off the threat with their scoring, and Salpointe led the Eagles 46-33 going into the fourth quarter.

Nez lead the Eagles with 22 points and 10 rebounds and Alyssa Harris added 14 points.

Salpointe’s defense limited Flagstaff to 31.1 percent shooting from the field. The Eagles had as many baskets from 3-point range (seven) as they did inside the arc. They finished with 19 turnovers.

Luevano embraced the state championship trophy that was draped by the net he cut from the rim as his players hugged each other in celebration and took numerous photos. He held that trophy like it was a baby.

“I have five or six kids on this team that could have scored 1,000 points but they’d rather have this,” he said holding up the trophy. “They’re just incredibly selfless kids. You couldn’t ask for anything more as a coach.”


ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District.

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