IGNACIO – Coaches have always been able to trust Ignacio High School point guard Charlize Valdez. She was put on center stage her freshman season when then-head coach Shane Seibel started her in the Class 2A state tournament. She has always relied on her strong dribbling and defensive work ethic, and she hopes it will pay off this weekend when the Bobcats have a chance to return to the state tournament, as they will host the Class 2A Region 8 tournament Friday and Saturday in Ignacio.
Charlize is the youngest of three girls, all of whom are athletes. Chrstianne played volleyball at Fort Lewis College, while Kiana played for the Bobcats last season and is now a cheerleader at FLC and is considering walking on to the women’s basketball team next season. They are the daughters of IHS boys basketball head coach Chris Valdez, and his wife, Cindy.
While Charlize is the youngest, she is also the scrappiest of the three. She believes her defense has improved drastically thanks in part to becoming quicker. A long-distance runner, she qualified for state in the two-mile race last spring for Ignacio. She was a first-time qualifier this fall in cross-country for the Bobcats, while her teammate, Avaleena Nanaeto, also qualified for the Colorado High School Activities Association’s Class 2A state cross-country championships.
“It’s come together more this season maybe than any other,” Charlize said. “I’m just trying to get faster with the drills I do. I run and that’s a big part of it. And because of the extra work I’ve put in the offseason with cross-country as well as most weekends, my footwork has become quicker. I am trying to read the other team’s offense sooner and get ahead of the play. So I feel like that’s all played a part in my defense improving.”
As point guard, Valdez has played a vital role for the Bobcats this season. She has averaged 6.1 points per game and is second on the team in assists, with 2.2 per game. On the other end of the floor, her scrappiness is evident in statistics as well, as she has averaged 2.3 steals per game, which is the third-most on the team.
Her quick feet and fast reactions were on display when Ignacio pulled off its biggest upset in years, when the Bobcats shocked then-Class 3A No. 4 Pagosa Springs 36-35 on Feb. 21, and Valdez scored the game-winning layup with 12 seconds left that came off of a steal. Chris said the steal showed her unwillingness to give up on the play, as well as tenaciousness that he says has always defined her game.
“At first I was a little bit upset that she turned the ball over in the first place, but as a coach, the first thing I saw was her go at the defender, attack the basket and run the floor,” Chris Valdez said. “It showed leadership and the ability to win the game. She realized that she made a mistake, but said ‘I’m not quitting’. I was really proud about that situation.”
Her role as a defensive stopper and pure point guard has been clear-cut since she was little. Chris Valdez added that Charlize’s ability to see the floor has always been strong, since she was always in the gym when she was younger.
“She was watching her sisters while they were playing, and I think that being the youngest, she understands the game more than anybody,” Chris Valdez said. “I got to coach her and a lot of her teammates in AAU when they were younger, and that was something where it was next-level stuff. I expected more out of the kids than other coaches, and she caught on to that early, and has always been a really a good ball player.”
The Valdez family has always bonded over basketball. But Charlize was able to play with Kiana for the past two seasons, which made the bond between sisters that much stronger.
“Ever since I was little, even when I was not able to walk, I’d come to my dad’s games and I watched games with my dad,” Charlize said. “Every Sunday, I’d go up to the gym to practice my dribbling and shooting in addition to coming to practice every day. Playing with Kiana for two years was a really special experience because playing with her, we were really into the game.
“This year, it’s kind of boring without her and there’s not as much action. I’ve got to go to work at the gym by myself because she was usually my defense buddy. Being able to do that without her is a different transition, but my teammates are amazing.”
The connection she has developed with her teammates has also been unique, and the AAU team that her dad led for two seasons will also play a pivotal role entering this weekend’s regional. All seven members of the original Shooting Stars team are on Ignacio’s varsity squad this season.
“It made us even better than what we expected in high school,” Charlize said. “We were going up against really good teams from across the country, and we had to learn how to play. Because when we got to these high school games, the teams in our league, it was like, ‘Is this it?’ It was a really big challenge because it made us want it more. It’s nice coming in and connecting with everyone. It definitely gives us an advantage over other teams because other teams come in and everyone is new. But because we knew each other growing up, we’re all best friends and the chemistry is incredible. We know exactly how to push each other to the best of our abilities.”
With strong team unity, lightning-quick defense and a red-hot offense, Charlize believes that Ignacio can do one game better than last year, when the Bobcats came an overtime period short of reaching the Great 8. She reflected on the moment she took the court in Loveland her freshman season. She is ready to experience the thrill again.
“That was something I always wanted to do because I watched Christianne and Kiana play and I remember how successful Ignacio was, and I was like, ‘Wow, I want to be up there,’” she said.
“Being up there and starting as a freshman was unbelievable because I got the experience of being in a big-game opportunity. It’s an experience that I want to have back again, and I absolutely think we’re good enough to get back there this year.”