Small School Basketball Should Be Exciting

Ernesto (2 resized)
McCurdy Charter School's Ernesto Martinez drives downcourt against Coronado in the Bobcats' victory over the Leopards. McCurdy returns all of its five starters from last year and looks strong in Class 2A. McCurdy must prove itself in upcoming tournaments that feature some of the top Class 2A high schools in the state (photo by Roman Martinez).

Small Schools Sould Be Exciting

By George Morse Sports and Outdoors

Small high schools in Rio Arriba County and the surrounding area are looking to establish a name for themselves in their predistrict basketball seasons at tournaments before beginning district play in January. the New Mexico Actvities Association realigned and reclassified teams into new classes and districts for the 2018-2019 season, at least one school has found itself stuck in a district that even if they win the district title and the automatic spot in the state basketball tournament that goes with it, must prove themselves in their predistrict season if they hope to get a favorable seeding in the state tournament.

McCurdy Charter School finds itself stuck in District 2-2A with other local charter schools in Santa Fe. Monte del Sol, Tierra Encantada, Academy for Technology and the Classics and a combined team of Desert Academy/Santa Fe Waldorf School. McCurdy is a well-established program among small Northern New Mexico high schools and traditionally plays the small town public high schools like Escalante, Penasco, Mesa Vista and others in district competition. There are well-established rivalries among these teams and the games are normally well-attended by local fans. Attendance at District 2-2A games will be considerably less than what they were when McCurdy played its traditional rivals.

This new district (2-2A) now has teams that are still trying to establish basketball programs and are decidedly weaker. Monte del Sol probably is the closest to even having a chance against McCurdy and it’s a longshot. More than likely only one school (the district champion) will come out of this district and advance to the state tournament

This season the McCurdy boys basketball team looks strong, returning all five starters from last year’s team that went 18-9 and won the District 2-3A district tournament. The Bobcats are 4-0 so far this season. After a hard-fought 46-43 victory over Escalante in their opening game, McCurdy has been defeating its opponents by double digits.

To compensate for the weakness of their district competition, McCurdy has wisely scheduled three very competitive tournaments where they will face some of the top teams in the state in Class 2A. The Citizens Bank Tournament (Dec. 20-22) hosted by Texico High School, the Northern Rio Grande Tournament (Jan. 3-5) at Pojoaque Valley High School and the Bean Valley Tournament (Jan. 10-12) hosted by Estancia High School will showcase the Bobcats against teams like defending state champion Pecos High School and state runnerup Texico High School along with state semifinalist Estancia. In addition, McCurdy has scheduled Class 3A West Las Vegas High School and a Jan. 26 game at Pecos that will be telecast live by MaxPreps.

If McCurdy proves itself in its predistrict schedule, the Bobcats should receive a good seeding and get to host a home game in the opening round of the Class 2A state tournament. It has been many years since McCurdy was able to host a state tournament game. McCurdy has the potential to be one of the top teams in Class 2A this season.

The McCurdy girls basketball team finds itself in a similar situation. Although the Lady Bobcats are just 3-3 on the season, the other girls teams in District 2-2A are very weak. So far this season, none of the other four teams in District 2-2A has won a game and are a combined 0-15 on the season. The McCurdy girls team will dominate this district even more so than the McCurdy boys.

McCurdy has not fared well against the top teams they have played so far this season, having been blown out by Tucumcari and Tularosa. Unlike the boys, the Lady Bobcats were hit heavily by graduation and lost most of their offensive scoring. Although they will easily win their district and advance to state, they must prove themselves in their predistrict competition if they hope to achieve a favorable seeding in the state tournament. There is the potential for McCurdy to improve.

The Lady Bobcats will face strong competition at the Ben Lujan Tournament (Dec. 20-22) hosted by Pojoaque Valley High School and at the Northern Rio Grande Tournament (Jan. 3-5) at Pojoaque. They will also face Pecos, Estancia and Penasco before beginning district play. They must win some of these games to have any chance of getting a good seed in the Class 2A state tournament.

Unlike McCurdy, most of the other small schools in Rio Arriba County and the surrounding area will face familiar foes in District 5-2A competition.  Penasco, Mora, Mesa Vista, Escalante and Questa are all traditional rivals and were members of the district last two seasons. The only change is the addition of Coronado High School, which moves up from Class A. Coronado is a familiar face, as well.

In past years, Coronado would have been competitive right away moving into this district. This season, Coronado looks like it is seriously rebuilding. The boys are 0-3, having yet to win a game. The girls are just 1-7 on the season. The Coronado girls were hit particularly hard by graduation.

Likewise, the Penasco boys team and the Questa boys team seem to be a little down this season. Penasco is just 1-4 and Questa is 1-5 so far this season. Likewise Mesa Vista, which is just 1-3 and lost its leading scorer to graduation. The Escalante boys are off to a slow start, but have played a pretty tough early schedule. Escalante usually contends for the district title and should again this year. Mora is usually the team that contends with Escalante for the district title and should again this year. The Rangers are 1-3 now, but like the Lobos have lost to quality teams and should be strong in district competition.

Last season, the Penasco girls team made it all the way to the Class 2A state championship game. The Lady Panthers lost to Fort Sumner. After graduating just one starter, Penasco seems primed to make another run at the state tournament. The Lady Panthers are currently 4-1 with the loss coming to Class 5A Deming High School. They should be considered favorites to win District 5-2A.

Most of the other girls teams in District 5-2A are struggling. Only Mora has a winning record (4-2), but the Rangerettes’ wins have been against weak teams. Questa is 2-4 and Mesa Vista 2-2 with both wins coming against weak teams. Escalante, which normally would be considered a contender for the district title, is struggling to score points and is 0-4 so far this season.

Dulce High School is the northernmost school in Rio Arriba County and the farthest west. The Hawks and Lady Hawks face very different competition in their district and predistrict schedules than the other schools in the county, so it’s hard to compare them based on their opponents. Both the boys and the girls are off to good starts at Dulce.

The Hawks are 4-1 and later this season will compete in District 1-2A. Dulce’s lone loss was to future District 1-2A opponent Newcomb High School. Newcomb and Rehoboth Christian High School look like they will also be contenders for the District1-2A title.

The Lady Hawks are coming off a very successful volleyball season that saw them reach the Class 2A state championship game for the first time in school history. Several of the key players on the volleyball team also fill key positions on the basketball team and they should be able to carry that momentum into the basketball season. The Lady Hawks are 4-2 on the season, with both losses coming to bigger schools. The Lady Hawks have the potential to make a run at state.

Fans of Northern New Mexico small school high school basketball need to mark off Jan. 3-5 on their calendars for the Northern Rio Grande Conference tournament. McCurdy, Escalante, Dulce, Mora, Penasco, Pecos, Questa and Mesa Vista will all be participating. Pecos has won the boys championship last two years. Penasco took the girls title last year. The tournament will be played at Pojoaque Valley High School.