LYFORD — Santa Maria guard Michelle Almazan didn’t see herself moving 1,000 miles from home following graduation at the start of her senior year, but she’s excited to do it now.
On June 4, Almazan signed to play college basketball at Central Methodist University in Fayette, Mo., during a ceremony in the high school gym. She’ll be playing for coach Mike Davis and competing in the Heart of America conference in the NAIA.
“I was really excited (to sign),” Almazan said. “I really didn’t think I was going to take that opportunity. I was thinking it was really far from my family, but then I started thinking outside the box and I was, like, well it’s a new opportunity, so why not take it? And I’m happy I did.”
Almazan credited Santa Maria girls basketball coaches Albert Briones and Amos Salas for their constant encouragement to pursue a collegiate career. Almazan and the Lady Cougars had a different coach each of her four years in high school, but she felt the program was at its best this season under Briones and Salas.
“My coach, Salas, asked me if I wanted to go play college ball. I thought it was too much for me, but he never gave up on me,” Almazan said. “He kept telling me, ‘I know you can do it,’ and that’s when I started looking into it more. It made me think that I could do it because they never gave up on me. They kept pushing me to go forward.”
Salas is a recruiter for Central Methodist, where his daughter, Myah, is part of the women’s basketball program. Since the UIL began allowing workouts at school facilities June 8, Almazan and Myah Salas have been training together at the gym, and talking about what’s expected and how things work with the Eagles.
Amos Salas said Almazan’s defense and physical style of play will fit right in with Central Methodist’s system. She’s been a guard since she began playing in the fifth grade and will continue in that position in the Eagles’ four-guard system.
“I always give her a hard time that the first time I met her, I saw attitude. But the attitude that she brought to the court was that she hated to lose, and she was going to work hard in order for the team and her to be successful,” Amos Salas said. “She made a big difference on the team, and her work ethic is exactly what Central Methodist is all about. Her speed and quickness (will help in college), and she’s very good defensively. Coach Davis is big on defense first, so I think that’s what’s going to make it a good fit for her.”
Almazan admits that she had an attitude when it came to basketball, but she and her coaches said it was all about pushing everyone around her to be their best. Briones said Almazan went to the weight room every day after school and brought a competitiveness to the team that was second to none.
“It’s great for her, for her family and for us as a community,” Briones said. “She worked her butt off, and she wanted everyone else to work their butt off like her. She was a great team player. She didn’t care if she scored a lot, she just wanted to make the best play. She was a tough, hard-nosed player on defense, and she brought a lot of intensity and was always physical.”
Almazan will be studying early education at Central Methodist with plans to become a teacher after graduation. She wants her younger teammates, which include her little sister, to carry on her relentless style of play.
“I really love my team and all the years that I’ve been playing with Santa Maria. I feel like it brought the team up, me pushing the other girls,” Almazan said. “I want them to remember my attitude. I hope they remember to never give up and just play every game like it’s their last.”