Haskell fall sports programs add to trophy collections with memorable seasons
photo by: Conrad Swanson
For the first time in school history, there were no bragging rights between the fall sports teams at Haskell Indian Nations University.
Each of the Indians’ three fall teams earned Association of Independent Institutions (AII) conference trophies, and all three were represented at the NAIA national championships.
“It’s been truly an honor to be a part of the Haskell athletic department,” Athletic Director Nana Allison-Brewer said. “It has a lot of pride considering the history that Haskell has, starting in 1884 and seeing all the reforms of Indian education, to see we’re in that self-determination era where we are dictating and controlling the education, and the opportunities for our native communities.”
Allison-Brewer finished her eighth season leading Haskell’s volleyball program, which won its first AII conference championship this season.
Meanwhile, the Indians men’s cross-country team, led by Albert Gipp, earned its first-ever conference title, while the women earned a second-place trophy, the team’s highest conference finish in its history.
After a 2-15 record ahead of conference play, the Indians turned things around. Haskell went 2-2 in the AII heading into November, and made it past the first day of the postseason tournament with a 2-1 record.
A four-set win over Lincoln Christian University brought a rematch with Indiana University Northwest for the conference title, and this time, the Indians took the match with a 3-0 sweep.
In the championship match, the Indians faced set point in the third set before senior Shelly Nez served up a 7-point run to clinch the match and send Haskell to its second NAIA tournament in three seasons. Haskell eventually fell to Jamestown in straight sets in the first round.
“It’s never been a fluke,” Allison-Brewer said. “We truly are a team that’s improving, that’s developing and growing. The only way to truly define what it takes is by getting there. These girls now know what it takes, but now they know what it takes to win a first-round and second-round match, too.”
Junior middle blocker Aliyah Richards and junior middle blocker and outside hitter Cailey Lujan were forces throughout the season.
“(Aliyah) has been dreaming of a championship banner, and she’s been working to (make a) repeat (trip) to nationals since the start of the season,” Allison-Brewer said. “(Cailey) had a phenomenal tournament. She had lots of double-doubles in kills and digs. She was a big jump server, so it was nice to have a player like her.”
In the back row, Sophia Honahni consistently produced 20-dig outings in her standout season to earn the recognition of AII libero of the year. Richards garnerd AVCA All-Midcentral honors after posting two consecutive 20-kill matches in the AII championships.
Redshirt-senior setter Amber Whitehair led the Indians’ offense throughout the season.
“Her steady mind and presence (were key) when we got too emotional or not emotional enough,” Allison-Brewer said of Whitehair. “She was able to guide us through that and be at the emotional state we needed and provide that for us.”
Gipp knew something was special about this year’s group. Coming into the season, the Haskell coach found out he had one of the largest groups of runners in program history.
“We work as two teams, but one of the things we started some years ago was, we’re one team with one goal,” Gipp said. “If a student had a class and missed practice, we still had quality numbers to do the workout to its best.”
For both the men and the women, the season came down to a battle with conference leader College of the Ozarks.
The women’s cross-country team did enough to take second place at the conference meet. It marked the third consecutive season the Indians improved their conference finish after claiming fourth in 2016 and third in 2017.
Sophomores Anika Francis and Tavia Hart earned second team all-conference honors. Francis finished sixth overall with a time of 21:27, and Hart finished eighth with a time of 21:32. Sophomores Shamiqua Nez, Chantel Yazzie and freshman Tiffany Berryhill each ran strong races when it counted most, finishing in the top-half of the pack at the final race of the season.
“Last year, we were third, it was a big boost for us to hold on and finish second,” Gipp said.
On the men’s side, Haskell clinched the team title with a narrow win over Ozarks.
Freshman Dorian Daw led the Indians with a second-place finish overall, recording a time of 26:59. Only two runners in the team’s top seven were upperclassmen, as Jesse Madelena claimed fifth and Joshua Garcia took ninth. The other five, Sielak Tuckfield, Justin Yazzie, Ronson Bagay, Tristan Antonio and Uriah Little Owl were all underclassmen.
“The cool part on there is, a lot came to Haskell for early enrollment,” Gipp said. “Many came with families. Good to have families come to campus. They grab onto ownership — this is our school.”
The men had the chance to race at the NAIA national championships as a team and finished 34th out of 36 teams.
Among a huge field of 341 runners in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Madelena led the men again with a 185th-place finish (138 among qualified teams) and a time of 26:19. Daw finished 271st (203) with a time of 27:05 and Tuckfield finished 277th (207) with a time of 27:11.
“We were a little nervous through the whole thing,” Gipp said. “Next year, hopefully, we can find some bigger meets. Some of the individuals got boxed in a little bit or got going a little quicker than we wanted to.”