Many sports teams form a strong bond, and without a huge talent pool from which to draw in Sedona, it is common for athletes to grow up their whole lives together. But one team has stood out recently.
Just under 10 years ago, a group of girls began playing basketball together at Big Park Community School that would end up becoming one of the best teams in Sedona Red Rock High School history.
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They spent hours together at practices, games, on bus rides and off-the-court. Despite that, their run on the floor is now finished, their bond is not.
“We are truly a family,” Chenoa Crans said. “I’ve never been so close with anyone like this. We can go to each other for anything.”
The group: Seniors Sophia Perry and Hannah Ringel, and juniors Crans, Liza Westervelt and Jo Toscano, all began playing within a couple of years of one another. Freshman Mary Westervelt was not far behind.
Intramural sports at Big Park were a popular thing to do, and where they first got to know each other well.
“There was a small group of girls who played sports in this town since kindergarten,” Perry said. “We all got closer through athletics.”
Liza and Mary’s father, Kirk, was their first coach, the one who pushed them and motivated them to become gym rats.
“[I] just led by example and told them I would give up my time for them if they trained hard and played the game the right way,” Kirk Westervelt said. “[They] were a great group of that listened, worked hard and had fun doing it.”
As they got older, they got more successful. In 2013, the last year the older quintet was together at Big Park, they were part of the first Verde Valley team to reach the finals of the Arizona Small Schools Girls State Basketball Championships. Crans, Liza Westervelt and Toscano took second in 2014, and Mary Westervelt won the championship in 2016.
But much like the achievements they made in high school, it was unexpected by many.
“I remember at state everyone would talk about how we were the only white team there,” Ringel said. “‘The White Girls’ that’s what they called us, and so they never really expected us to win. I think with all of our character and stuff we all came together to prove them wrong.”
Character is an understatement when it comes to describing the gang of girls. While talking with them it is apparent they know one another inside and out.
To everyone’s amusement, Mary Westervelt described Crans as “Speedy Gonzalez” on the court and a goofball off.
In turn, Mary Westervelt is a “rat” off the court because of her large group of friends, and a “Sasquatch” on the court.
“You can hear her coming before you see her coming,” Liza Westervelt said.
It was thoroughly agreed that Liza Westervelt is the most intense on the floor, but “the nicest person ever” and a “kind soul” off of it.
Toscano is, simply put the rest, the ‘scrub’ or the butt of the joke.
Depending on who you ask, Perry is the Mama Bear or Mama Hen; everyone looks up to her both on and off the court, the one who you can talk to about anything.
“She’s smart in basketball and in real life,” Liza Westervelt said. “No one doesn’t like her, she’s a personable person.”
To know the real Ringel, you would have to have been on the team with her. Extremely shy, but fiesty on the floor, she is “the most outgoing and funniest person.”
The group considered itself underestimated in high school, turning heads after reaching the Final Four of the 2016 Arizona Interscholastic Association Division IV State Championship. With the addition of Mary Westervelt in 2017, the pressure grew to at least repeat the feat, which they did. Along the way, they won two tournaments against bigger schools.
“We put a lot of pressure on ourselves [to win state] because we knew we were capable,” Crans said.
“I think we were underestimated; it was fun being the underdog,” Perry said.
But their success did not come without hard work. Sedona Red Rock High School head coach Dave Moncibaez recognized their talent when he was still coaching at Mingus Union High School. He took over for the 2015-16 season.
“During season there’s not a better group who works out harder than them,” Moncibaez said. “There was a lot of passion with this group and they wanted it. When they saw it [a state finals berth] slipping away, they wanted it even more.”
They reminisce on the good times; singing on the bus and doing their pregame sparkle perfume ritual. Moncibaez said they would dribble to the tune of “The Cupid Shuffle” at practice.
“We’ve made so many memories together, and with our whole varsity team,” Mary Westervelt said. “It’s going to be weird not having [Perry and Ringel] there next year.”
More than the triumphs, it was the sharing of a common goal and that deep bond that held them together.
“In basketball practice you don’t really have the time to get to know somebody how you do at dinners and sleepovers and stuff,” Ringel said. “And so they get to see a different side of you, and I think that’s how we all really came to get along.”
Crans considered quitting. So did Perry after suffering a serious knee injury as a sophomore.
“The team makes it better. After hurting my knee, the team motivated me to come back,” Perry said. “It was fun playing on a team where everyone wanted the same thing.”
Just like any family, there were times when emotions ran high, but it was for the sake of the team; no one took it personally.
“They got on each other like sisters if one was slacking or dogging it. They pushed each other,” Moncibaez said. “They got along on the court and got along off the court.”
One truth in sports is that no matter how good a team is, their time always comes to an end.
The friendships amongst this group of girls likely will not.