Moments before she takes the court, when the music is blaring from the loudspeakers and the student section is at a fever pitch, Teige Zeller
looks down to read the writing on her shoes.
The 6-foot-2 Los Lunas
junior standout isn't shy about professing the virtues of her Christian faith, even if it brings ridicule and scorn from people who don't know her.
"If you take God out of my life, basketball and school would mean nothing," Zeller said. "I am a child of God — that's my identity."
That's saying a mouthful, considering Zeller is rated as one of the top three players in New Mexico, a bona-fide Division I prospect and a straight-A student. On top of all that, the Grants transfer has lettered in four other varsity sports — volleyball, track and field, cross country and tennis — while also finding time to play the flute in the Los Lunas High band, the piano in the jazz band and being heavily involved in the school's Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) club.
Zeller takes pride in being the personification of a true student-athlete.
"My parents raised me up to be well-rounded," she said. "They wanted me to try a lot of things so I could (ultimately) choose what I wanted to really excel at. I still love doing a lot of things, but I've decided to focus (most of my time) on basketball and music."
Good call. Zeller is averaging 18 points, 12 rebounds and five blocked shots per game for a Los Lunas team with legitimate 4A state championship aspirations. In Zeller, the 9-2 Tigers have a dominating post player who can do it all: shoot, rebound, block shots while altering countless others and finding the open teammate when she's getting double- or triple-teamed in the post.
"Teige was prepared for all the defenses that she would see this season," said Marty Zeller, Teige's dad and the Los Lunas head coach. "What I like is Teige's hate-to-lose mentality. Around here she's known as the fourth quarter girl because she gets things done when it counts the most. A lot of that just comes from her having that inner drive of not just wanting to succeed, but exceed."
As the only girl of four children, Zeller learned from an early age that nothing in life was going to come easy.
"My two older brothers (Roman and Weston) always pushed me," she said. "I've always been driven to beat them in anything, but in terms of my motivation, most of it comes from wanting to make my family proud. The competitiveness is in all of our blood, I guess."
Of that, there is no doubt.
"I was one of nine kids, and you learned to compete right there at the dinner table just to get something to eat," Marty said. "And then you look at our kids, and I hear them competing in everything they say. Every word that comes out of their mouths, it's all about competition."
Marty, who played at Baylor and spent 14 years as a professional basketball coach in Australia and Europe, said his daughter needs to improve in one critical aspect of the game.
"She has to (use her physical strength to) initiate the contact (and get calls)," he said. "She's used to receiving contact and getting double- and triple-teamed. I think when she learns how to initiate the contact, it's going to get real exciting."
Even though Zeller is 6-2, she moves with the athleticism and agility of a guard. That's why the attention from Division I programs should only intensify in the coming months. If Zeller grows another 2 inches, she'll be a full foot taller than her mom, Dae. It doesn't take a Nobel Laureate to figure out where Zeller got her height (Marty is 6-6).
For Zeller, basketball was love at first dribble. Starting when she was 5 or 6, she vividly remembers playing the sport every summer at one of Marty's basketball camps.
"I'm really blessed to have amazing parents," she said. "They really helped me find myself and my faith. But now I don't have to depend on them for faith. I've grown enough where I can just depend on God — because he is enough — to help me overcome any type of adversity that will come my way."