Salpointe’s pressure defense, Kylee Callahan heat up in win over Sahuaro

Salpointe’s Tessa Hastings emerged from the postgame locker room Tuesday night wearing Christmas pajama pants, and she along with fellow senior Kylee Callahan stayed in the Lancers’ gym nearly until the lights were turned off talking with friends and family members.

Many of the Lancers lingered to offer hugs and receive well wishes following the 64-37 win over 4A Kino rival Sahuaro.

The sense of family and chemistry is very apparent in Joseph Luevano’s program that will be in contention for a 4A state title by year’s end.

“It’s starting to come together; there’s flashes of how well we can play together,” said Luevano, who is in his second year after coaching Salpointe to the 4A state title game against powerhouse Seton Catholic last season.

“There’s times we get lopsided but we get back on track hopefully pretty quickly.”

That was Salpointe’s story against a Sahuaro team with new leaders and young talent under legendary coach Steve Botkin, whose career record is 580-185 in his 27th season as a head coach.

The Cougars, who are adapting without one of the best players in Tucson history, Alyssa Brown (now at UNLV), looked like they were up to the challenge early against Salpointe (11-4, 2-0 4A Kino) taking a 9-8 lead on a jumper by junior A.J. Bonapart with 7:49 left in the second quarter.

Another junior Nelly Ponds, who is averaging 14.8 points a game, was whistled for her third foul on the next play and was forced to sit the remainder of the half.

Salpointe’s senior point guard Bria Medina made the two free throws to give the Lancers a 10-9 lead and they never trailed again.

“We were right there,” said Botkin, who has only one senior (Isabelle Saldivar-Hale) among his top six scorers. “We have some growing to do.”

Salpointe guard Kylee Callahan is averaging 4.6 steals per game (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

A free throw by Cassie Coolidge, a sophomore who along with Bonapart led the Cougars with 13 points, cut Salpointe’s lead to 20-18 with 1:56 left in the half.

That’s when Callahan and Salpointe’s full-court pressure took over.

Three straight turnovers by Sahuaro (13-1, 1-1 4A Kino) before reaching midcourt fueled the Lancers’ 10-0 run to close the half with Callahan scoring four points and feeding Medina and Hastings for layups after steals. Coolidge also picked up her third foul during that stretch.

Callahan went on to score 15 of Salpointe’s 19 points in the third quarter mostly in transition off of Sahuaro’s turnovers against the press to help the Lancers extend their lead to 49-28 going into the fourth quarter.

“I could feel like something wasn’t going right in the first quarter,” said Callahan, who didn’t make her first field goal of the game until 1:13 remained in the second quarter. “We just needed to change it up and I think the momentum definitely helped with that shift.”

Callahan, who has 864 career points, finished with 24 points coming on strong in the second half while Hastings bolstered the Lancers in the first half with 10 of her 12 points.

“We started kind of slow and we were kind of in our heads a little bit, but once we got amped up on defense, that’s when it really flipped the script,” Hastings said.

That script usually has a good ending for Luevano and Salpointe because of the chemistry that has formulated since the summer when many members of the team played in summer-league games together.

That has helped bridge the gap between veterans such as Callahan, Medina and Hastings with talented young freshmen Taliyah Henderson, Hannah Williams and Jolee Nelson.

Henderson, a versatile forward who can play all five positions, already has Division I offers from Utah Valley and Southern Utah. She finished with 11 points against Sahuaro.

“We’re still growing and building; we have this unique situation with incredible talent and experience returning and this young group of freshmen that are very talented also,” Luevano said. “Mixing that, we’re going through some growing pains and fortunately we got a lot of experience out of the last in the last two weeks in two tournaments we traveled to.

“And playing Sahuaro is always going to be a beat-down, knockdown game. They’re so well-coached and they’re going to fight. We basically played eight consecutive really tough games. We’re learning from those experiences and hopefully growing from them.”

Salpointe competed in the Nike Tournament of Champions in Phoenix before Christmas and went 1-3 playing high-caliber teams from Fresno, Anchorage and Martin, Tenn. The Lancers then played in a tournament in San Diego after Christmas and went 2-1 with wins over Bishop Gorman of Las Vegas and a school from Spring Valley, Calif.

“We’ve been taking out teams by 30, so giving us a little bit of a challenge (playing in those holiday tournaments) will help us prepare for Seton and those teams in Phoenix that we will play in the playoffs,” Callahan said.

Hastings said the team’s chemistry extends to some relationships that started in grade school.

“I’ve played with a couple of these girls since fourth grade,” she said. “Everyone else that I’ve played with, we’ve molded really well together. We’ve played tons of games all over the summer and this season already, just over (Christmas) break having eight games right in a row.

“Having the mental toughness to go and play game after game, plus also playing good competition, working on chemistry, the opportunties to play together have helped us mold as a team.”


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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