Leon Stallworth left his job as a boys basketball coach last year so he could watch his daughter play.
He has a pretty good seat.
Heading into Thursday night’s game at Sahuarita, Palo Verde — coached by Stallworth and led by his daughter, Sydni — had won 10 of 11 games to improve to 17-8. Sydni, a junior, is one of the state’s top scorers.
“I got a chance to be able to coach Sydni in her last two years of high school basketball,” said Stallworth, who took over after Scott Epstein resigned in the offseason. “It was a nice blessing.”
Sydni Stallworth sure is a blessing for the Titans, too.
The 5-foot-5-inch point guard is averaging 23.6 points per game, 17 more than anyone else on the team. She also leads the team with 9.1 rebounds, 5.7 steals and 3.2 assists per game. She had one of her best games of the year Tuesday, when she single-handedly outscored host Benson with 36 points in a 55-30 win.
“I just try to be aggressive, and I look for my teammates, but I try to draw the defense to me,” Sydni Stallworth said. “We’re all friends. We encourage each other. We get mad sometimes, but we know how to talk to each other.”
Stallworth led the team with 21 points per game as a sophomore, but Palo Verde finished 9-18 after going 26-6 and making the state quarterfinals a year earlier. The Titans, ranked 20th in Division III and primed for a trip to the state tournament, are starting to look like contenders again.
“We had to work on a lot of fundamentals and get more girls involved,” said Leon Stallworth, who coached the Titans freshman and JV boys teams in the past. “Last year I felt they depended too much on Sydni.”
Seven players regularly score for the Palo Verde, but Stallworth, a third-year player and team captain, is still the big leader for the Titans, who have home games against Safford and Morenci next week. Wins there would secure a spot in the section tournament and possibly the state tournament, too.
“We wanted to change the culture around here and get it back to a winning attitude,” coach Stallworth said.