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Reviewing high school sports

Analysis by
George Morse
SUN Staff Writer

    Looking back over the recently-concluded high school sports season, there are outstanding performances to be remembered and standout athletes to whom we say goodbye. There are likely some future stars on the horizon, as well as improvement still to be hoped for in other sports.

Football

    Escalante High School may not have been able to repeat their Class A state championship of 2012, but the Lobos still had an excellent year. Reynaldo Atencio turned in a gritty performance, putting pain aside and playing with a knee brace the entire season. Atencio finished his career as the all-time leading scorer in state high school football history.

    Also ending their time with the Lobos were bruising fullback Cody Casados and speedy wide receiver Adam Gurulé. The graduation of three linemen (CJ DeYapp, Brandon Gonzales, Jeremy Garcia) from the 2012 team weakened the Lobos up front on offense and defense this season.

    Escalante will return some key players and should have more speed with Dominic Montaño and Will Hurd returning. The Lobos have another tough schedule  thanks to the efforts of coach Dusty Giles. Escalante is one of the few schools in the north where football is supported as much if not more than basketball.

    Putting together a quality team year after year can be tough at a school like Escalante with a small student body. By establishing a tradition of winning football and playing tough opponents, Escalante is doing what it needs to do to encourage its best athletes to play football.

    Graduation weakened  McCurdy Charter School, as well. The Bobcats’ explosive passing attack lost quarterback Eric Vigil, along with wide receivers Santiago Lovato and Randy Trujillo, as well as some key linemen. Injuries during the season to Richard Wisecarver, Daniel Arroyo and Chris Serrano further weakened the Bobcats and they finished the season getting eviscerated by Escalante. McCurdy will look to start rebuilding next season and return to their former strength.

    Class A 11-man football has shrunk to just seven teams statewide. Its future looks shaky.

    Pojoaque made big strides last season. The Elks established a new milestone with their first win in the Class AAA state football playoffs, an exciting 41-40 win over Albuquerque Academy. Pojoaque could put points on the board. They lose some of those key players  in quarterback John Ainsworth Jr., fullback Adrian Trujillo and running back Juan Rios.

    Deep threat Isaac Martinez returns and the Elks now have a little bit of history to live up to. Hopefully they can build on their progress last season and attract more potential players.

    Española Valley suffered through another tough season, although they did pick up a win. Quarterback Marcos Flores returns, but they lose workhorse running back Lucas Bustos and a gamer in Gabe Rivas. If the Sundevils can develop a line and learn to play some defense, perhaps they can squeeze out a few more wins.

    Dulce had a tough season . The football fortunes of the Hawks seem to fluctuate season to season. In 2011, Dulce went undefeated.

    There is a parade of new faces at head coach season after season. Some stability in the program would help.

    They will have two new, tough district opponents in Estancia and Laguna/Acoma next season.

Cross country

    Pojoaque’s Jereme Santistevan highlighted the cross country season, winning his second straight Class AAA state championship. Santistevan was one of the top runners in the state in any class, beating Los Alamos and Albuquerque Academy’s best runners in head-to-head competition.

    His graduation will  certainly leave a hole in the Elks team. Pojoaque has earned a team trophy at state for five straight years, including back-to-back championships in 2011 and 2012. Standards are set high for this program.

    A runner needs to step up next season for the Elks just as Santistevan did his junior year, when he went from being a middle-of-the-pack runner to state champion.

    Pojoaque does have a budding star on the girls team in Megan Herrera. She’s finished second at state the last two years and the girl that beat her, Sandia Prep’s Rachel Fleddermann, graduated.

    Herrera will have some new competition next season with East Mountain High School and Bosque School moving up to Pojoaque’s Class AAAA. They both have some quality runners who will compete for the state title with Herrera. It would be nice to see the Pojoaque girls team get a trophy at state again.

    Española Valley did what it does year-after-year, which is qualify for the state meet by finishing second or third at districts. The Sundevils need to aim a little higher than just getting to state. Granted, there are some cross country powerhouses in Los Alamos and Albuquerque Academy in their class. Still, they should aim for the top instead of settling for middle-of-the-pack.

    Española shouldn’t settle for just getting to state. They should strive to make some noise at state too. They have some promising young runners, both boys and girls.

    Dulce, Mesa Vista and Coronado will hopefully continue to offer cross country to their athletes. Particularly with the Leopards and the Trojans, cross country offers male athletes at these schools a chance to compete and stay in shape in the fall since they don’t play football.

    It would be nice if McCurdy could get a cross country program going. The Bobcats need some distance runners to compliment the sprinters their improving track and field programs.

Volleyball

    The Pojoaque Elkettes continued to dominate Class AAA volleyball, winning their fifth straight state championship. The Elkettes will lose middle blocker Cheyenne Law and outstanding outside hitter Kristin Woody to graduation.

    Pojoaque has always had great defense  and strong serving to compliment their hitters. With no new standout hitters on the horizon, they will rely on defense and serving even more next season.

    It may be the end to their streak of state championships, but the Elkettes will likely fight tooth-and-nail to keep that from happening next season. Pojoaque has established itself as one of the best volleyball programs in the state.

    Española Valley High School made it to state for the second straight season and the Sundevils return nearly all of their starters with the exception of Kayla Romero and defensive specialist Ariel Martinez. Outstanding outside hitter Elana Salazar returns and the Sundevils have a solid setter in Celina Naranjo. Española needs to break through and win the District 2AAAA title, which they should have done last year. They faltered against Santa Fe in the District 2AAAA tournament championship game.

    Española is knocking on the door to move into the group of top volleyball teams in the state. Maybe next season they will finally open it. They’ve been their before, when they played in the 2006 state championship game.

    McCurdy will lose several key players in twins Jaclyn and Jaime Archuleta, along with Miah Martinez and Eliana Griego. Look for Maria Elena Rendon to emerge as one of the best outside hitters in the small school ranks this season. If Tanisha Velasquez returns at outside hitter, the Bobcats will have  a strong offensive attack among the small schools. Maria DeVargas will take over as setter and last season showed skills beyond her eighth grade status.

    McCurdy will benefit from its new district, which will include Mora and Questa. The Bobcats will have to step it up in district competition next season. That will help McCurdy at the state tournament. They cake-walked to the district title last season.

    Dulce, Mesa Vista, Coronado and Escalante are still rebuilding. The Trojans will lose outside hitter Selina Siquieros, which will hurt their front line.

Basketball

    One of the biggest changes in the new district alignments for next season by the New Mexico Activities  Association will have a significant impact on small-school basketball here in the North. District 5AA will have Escalante, McCurdy, Mesa Vista, Mora, Peñasco and Questa battling it out for the district championship.

    The Escalante Lobos made a stirring run in the Class A state tournament, reaching the championship game. The Lobos will lose leader Reynaldo Atencio and big Norman Salazar to graduation, along with guard Cody Casados.

    They’ll return one of Class A’s top big men in Adam Edwards, along with point guard Dominic Montaño and brothers Will and Joseph Hurd. They should be strong again and their new district will feature fierce competition among the six teams in it.

    The Lady Lobos are still a young team and should make some strides next season. They may still be a year away from being contenders.

    The Española Valley Sundevils boys basketball team finally returned to the top of District 2AAAA last season and the Sundevils return nearly all of their key players, losing only Bobby Ray Sisneros from their starting lineup. They return District 2AAAA most valuable player Jared Garduño, along with post Joe Trujillo and guards Uriah Arellano, DJ Curtis and Marcos Flores. Several other players need to emerge as solid members of the team to give the Sundevils a fighting chance at the state tournament.

    The Sundevils need to put the turmoil of last season behind them and unite. It will be a long season if they don’t.

    The Lady Sundevils battled eventual Class AAAA state champion Santa Fe tooth-and-nail in District 2AAAA competition. Española loses just Kayla Romero from its starting five. Point guard Kaitlyn Romero, high-scoring wing Ashlynn Trujillo, post Alexis Lovato and off-guard Kayla Salazar all return, along with Leah Archuleta. The Sundevils could crack the top four in Class AAAA next season. Their weakness last season was a tendency to give up big runs by their opponents, particularly early in the game.

    The Pojoaque boys finished last season strong and nearly knocked off Lovington in the opening round of state. They lose Matthew Herrera, a solid all-around player. Also departing are Kevin Herrera and John Ainsworth. They’ll return point guard Anthony Martinez, along with Ryan Maestas, Chris Martinez and Adan Lopez.

    It’s tough for any team, including Pojoaque, to crack the top in what will be Class AAAA. Hope Christian and St. Michael’s have dominated this class since 2008, when Pojoaque won its only state championship.

    The Pojoaque Elkettes were hurt by the late-season injury to Miranda Martinez and will lose solid senior Gaby Gonzales. They will have a new coach in Chris Williams, who has a daunting task trying to return Pojoaque to its former glory. Pojoaque will be vertically-challenged next season.

    McCurdy Charter School struggled from the free-throw line all season and it cost the Bobcats in games they could have won. They couldn’t beat Escalante. They lose some key players in Daniel Arroyo, Dennis Padilla and Chris Serrano. All told, the Bobcats will lose six seniors who played key roles for the Bobcats. They have some good young talent coming up and will be in the thick of what promises to be a heated race in District 5AA.

    The Lady Bobcats had a solid season, but got a bad seed in the state tournament and lost in the opening round. McCurdy loses point guard Alannah Sanchez and Miah Martinez to graduation. They have some promising young players in Karla Santos and Amanda Romero, who played a lot as eighth-graders last season. They’ll benefit from the tough competition in District 5AA next season after having little resistance in District 4A last season.

    Mesa Vista has struggled the last two seasons and a tough district next season will make it harder on the Trojans. The Lady Trojans made it to state, but they will lose all-star Selina Siqueiros to graduation. They will return some good young players, including point guard Azzy Griego.

    Coronado will benefit from moving down a class. They have been hit hard by declining enrollment and a carousel of coaches in recent years. Their new district  next season will require both the boys and girls to make a lot of long road trips. The other six members of District 1A are in Albuquerque, Santa Fe or Jemez Pueblo.

    Dulce will also have a lot of long road trips in their new District 2AAA. With the exception of Pecos, the other four members of the district are all in Santa Fe. The Hawks only had one senior last season and they could challenge for the title in their new district.

Wrestling

    Española Valley High School senior Santiago Quintana suffered a heart-breaking loss in the 220-pound Class AAAA state championship match, losing in overtime. Senior Florian Castillo battled injuries all season. The top returner for the Sundevils will be junior James Vigil, who will seek to end his senior season with a state title after finishing third at 126 pounds  this past season. Dominic Medina will also contend at state next season at either 106 pounds or 113 pounds.

On the diamond

    The Española Valley High School baseball team finished second in District 2AAAA, losing only to district champion Los Alamos en route to a 9-3 district record. The Sundevils had solid pitching and good defense throughout the season. Their weakness was on offense, where they had trouble producing runs. With starting pitchers Jesus Chavez, Jacob Osegueda and Elias Archuleta returning, the Sundevils should again have solid pitching. The challenge will be trying to score more runs.

    The Sundevils softball team had a tough season and didn’t get to state. Española is still a young team.

    To make matters tougher on the Sundevils in these two sports, their District 2AAAA gets no respect when it comes to seeding for the state tournament.

    The Pojoaque High School baseball team had a tough season, but were competitive in District 2AAA last season. They have potential to improve next season, but have a ways to go before they can make a run at state.

    The Elkettes were one of the most enthusiastic teams to be around this past season. Their dugout was lively. That enthusiasm and team unity carried Pojoaque through adversity and produced a stirring run at state.

    They will lose Gaby Gonzales and left fielder Amber Sky Lujan to graduation. The coaching staff at Pojoaque, from head coach Ricky DeHerrera on down through all his assistants, did an outstanding job of holding the team together. They will return a lot of eager, young players looking to get back to state and make some more noise.

    The McCurdy Charter School baseball team will lose Chris Serrano, Dennis Padilla, Derrick Valdez  and David Sanchez to graduation. They played key roles for the Bobcats this past season. Next year’s team will be young.

    McCurdy will have a larger district to contend with next season and return a good-starting pitcher in Alejandro Croff, along with power hitter Jordan Sanchez. Coach Roberto DeVargas will put a team together, just as he has year-after-year at McCurdy.

    The Bobcats softball team loses pitcher/shortstop Alannah Sanchez and left fielder Eliana Griego. Pitcher Tanisha Velasquez will return along with a host of eighth-graders who saw action last season.

    Alyssa Aguilar got some experience on the mound this year at state and she should take over for the departed Sanchez. Catcher Karla Santos and first baseman Elena Gonzales were solid at their respective positions, while junior Maria Elena Rendon showed awesome power at times at the plate.

    McCurdy should be solid next season, but will still have those strong teams from the south like Jal and Loving to deal with at state.

    The Mesa Vista High School Trojans struggle to put a baseball team on the field but coach Cliff Richardson manages to put a team together. He usually has to recruit some female players and then has to share his players with the track and field team. The players enjoy themselves despite the odds.

Track, field

    Jereme Santistevan finished his high school career with victories in the 1600-meter run and the 3200-meter run at the Class AAA state track and field meet. This fall he will be running cross country for the New Mexico State Aggies. He won back-to-back 3200-meter titles. Also graduating was senior Juan Rios, who anchored Pojoaque’s relay.

    The Elks will have some good sprinters returning and coach Bob Koski does an excellent job of putting relays together and then getting them qualified early before the District 2AAA meet. That’s the way to do it. They need to find a distance runner to take Santistevan’s place.

    The Pojoaque girls won the 1600-meter medley relay and will lose just senior Melinda Quintana. Quintana turned in a gritty senior year, fighting an injury (plantar fasciitis) all season.

    The other three members of the medley (Aubrey Aldaz, Catherine Jiron, Megan Herrera) return. Jiron is a solid sprinter and Herrera strong in the 800-meter and 1600-meter runs.

    Pojoaque needs to find an athlete to score points in the field events and a 400-meter runner if they want to get back on the podium for a team trophy.

    Española Valley High School managed to do something it doesn’t always do, which is score points at state. Jared Garduño surprised everyone, including himself, with a third-place finish in the long jump. Basketball may be his first love, but he could possibly excel in the long jump with more training and practice time.

    Maybe one year teammate Aaron Martinez will be able to get on the podium too. He’s just missed doing so.

    Española needs to practice its relays more and concentrate on running state-qualifying times early in the season instead of trying to qualify by place at the District meet. The also need to shoot for times that the other Class AAAA teams are turning in. A school the size of Española should be producing more track and field athletes and coming back with more medals.

    Alexis Lovato is the girls best chance at a state medal in shot put. Maybe her nerves got to her at state. I don’t recall seeing her scratch at all during the season, but then she scratched at state on all of her attempts. The Lady Sundevils, just like the boys, need to realize that at state they are competing against all of Class AAAA and try to match those times. They seem to be satisfied with times that earn them ribbons at smaller meets or at districts, but leave them well behind the rest of Class AAAA at state.   

    McCurdy had just one girl at state. She came back with a first-place medal. Alannah Sanchez produced a storybook finish in the javelin, launching the winning throw on her last attempt. If it seems like you’ve heard her name before, that’s because she was a true four-sport athlete for the Bobcats.

    McCurdy had pretty good participation on its girls track team despite having to compete with softball for players. Maybe a few more girls will consider doing both sports after Sanchez’s success.

    The McCurdy boys scored some points at state. They’ll lose sprinter Richard Wisecarver, but have some good athletes coming up who are dedicated to track. They had some good participation last season too. The father/daughter coaching team of Cecil Brown and Cecilia Rodriguez are doing a good job with the Bobcats’ track and field program.

    Escalante somehow puts together good relays and hurdlers despite having to practice in the parking lot. They’ll lose sprinters Adam Gurulé and Reynaldo Atencio. They’ll still have some speed coming back and should have some good relays next year.. Look for Will Hurd in the 110-meter and 300-meter hurdles at state next season.

    Victoria Valdez is a good, young sprinter for the Lady Lobos and she should be back in the 300-meter hurdles at state next season. Tori Salazar has potential in the throwing events.

    Mesa Vista loses Selina Siqueiros. The Trojans have a track to practice on and their boys should realize that the Trojans have had a lot more success bringing back awards from state in track and field then they’ve ever had in baseball. They have a good coach in Ben Sandoval. Look for James Espinoza to emerge as a good middle-distance runner.

    Coronado has the same problem as Escalante- no track to practice on. They have some athletes who would benefit from more practice on suitable facilities. Dulce track and field seems to have the same problem as football. Some years they’re loaded and others kind of thin. Their girls are the most consistent and should have some good athletes returning next season.

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