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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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Crisp Carves Out Own History at Navajo Prep
by Christopher Smith The (Farmington, NM) Daily Times
credits: photo by Donovan Quintero - Navajo Times
FARMINGTON — Navajo Prep senior Nicole Crisp took the stage Friday at graduation practice and recited her "farewell."

Finished rehearsing her lines, she extended her arms, two fingers visible on each hand, and leaned into the microphone.

"Peace!" she bellowed in a pretend deep voice.

Then her sister Rainy Crisp, a senior sponsor, reclaimed the microphone.

"OK, everyone stand up! Now you hug each other or shake hands, because this will be the last time you're all together."

Rainy Crisp directed the seniors to proceed down two aisles past the empty rows of chairs lining the gym floor and through columns of black, yellow and white balloons. T.I.'s "Live Your Life" blared impossibly loud from speakers by the stage: "Safe to say I paved the way / For you cats to get paid today / You'd still be wasting days away / Had I never saved the day."

Rainy Crisp doesn't demand homage from her younger sister, but her presence has always hovered around Nicole Crisp, preceding her everywhere. The elder Crisp nearly averaged a quadruple-double her senior year at Prep, winning three state titles before playing for Arizona State University. Now she coaches the school's volleyball and girls basketball team.

Older sister Latisha also won a basketball state championship as a senior. Nicole Crisp motions toward pictures of the Lady Eagle's back-to-back-to-back state teams that hang from the wall of Eagle Gymnasium.

"I grew up in a very competitive family," Nicole Crisp said. "Growing up and watching Rainy win three and playing with my older sister when she was a freshman, I was like, I want that. I want to be a state champion.' I would look at their pictures on the wall and be like, OK, I'm going to be up there one day.'"

Crisp played timid as a varsity freshman under her sister, concerned with the public's perception. She worried about appearing to get preferential treatment.

"I know there was pressure coming in after me being a coach and what our team did back in 98 and the years after that," Rainy Crisp said. "Everybody really had high expectations for her."

The whispers in the hall weren't so quiet.

Some even said "bad stuff" about Crisp, fellow basketball standout Monique IronShell said.

"I told her to not listen to what people were saying," IronShell said.

Finally, after back-to-back losses in the 2A volleyball championship and falling to Texico in the 2008 basketball final, the Crisps led the Eagles to their first hoops title since 1999.

Crisp's 23 points and 14 rebounds helped the Eagles to a 72-54 win over Lordsburg.

"Right when the buzzer went off I ran to my sister Rainy and I was like, We finally got it! We finally got one!' We were so ecstatic and so happy, you know?" Crisp said. "After we won our state championship, Rainy was teasing me and she was like, You've finally earned the right to be called a Crisp.'"

Talking about it two months later, her sparkling brown eyes convey emotion unapologetically. All those years watching her sisters win, wanting to be just like them, coming so close only to falter, and finally she's free from her self-imposed burden.

"Falling short all the past few years I've been here, it was just great," Crisp said. "Winning that state championship was enough for me. After that everything was just a bonus."

The Class 2A volleyball Player of the Year also finished third in the 2A triple jump and 200-meter dash and finished near the top of her class academically, earning her The Daily Times' Female Athlete of the Year award for 2008-09.

Partial to basketball, Crisp excelled elsewhere at the behest of her parents. Her father Earl Crisp used to coach track at Prep. With Rainy Crisp coaching volleyball, she got roped into the two sports, which she grew to tolerate and then enjoy.

Crisp wasn't allowed to bring home anything below a B' on her report card, and sometimes that wasn't acceptable.

"My mom and dad, they didn't accept anything but the best from us, and when they knew we could do more they would definitely push us," Rainy Crisp said, half serious in protesting that her sister got it easier as the baby of the family.

Nicole Crisp cherishes the tough love. Asked what's important to her life outside of sports, she referred back to her household.

"I pretty much wouldn't be where I am today without them," Crisp said. "My parents disciplined me and my sisters looked out for me and all my friends. I don't think I would've been anywhere without the people around me."

The independent one, Crisp plans to study forensic science with hopes of analyzing DNA from crime scenes, breaking the chain of education majors that includes her parents and two sisters.

Crisp will attend Phoenix-based Mesa Community College in the fall, where she'll play basketball and consider transferring to a Division I or II program in two years.

A left-hander, Crisp thinks she's too devoted to her dominant side and wants to become more ambidextrous.

Articulate and self-aware, Crisp has benefited from her older sisters' presence.

"She doesn't need somebody to hold her hand or tell her what to do. She makes the right decisions the majority of the time," Rainy Crisp said. "She doesn't need me or our parents to guide her. At this point in time she's ready to be pushed out the nest and go do whatever she wants to do.

"I think that puts a lot of relief on my parents because she is a responsible person. Totally different from me. My parents were calling me every time."

As Nicole Crisp's plaque sat on the concession stand ledge a few feet away, symbolizing her unchained claim on history, the sister/coach swelled with pride.

"She deserves it. I'm pretty sure there are a lot of other seniors out there that deserve it as well, but it's a good honor for her," Rainy Crisp said.

Walking beyond a spontaneous modified game of Wiffle ball in the practice gym, Nicole Crisp posed with a basketball and interjected occasional giggles. She tried to hold a serious expression and failed.

"I can't keep from smiling," Crisp said.

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