By George Morse
As exciting as it is to attend a basketball game at a big high school, where hundreds and even thousands of fans pack the gym to cheer for their tea, the heart and soul of Northern New Mexico basketball may be found in the dozens of small towns scattered across the area. Here, the high school really is the center of community. Residents gather on the cold and sometimes snowy evenings at the high school gyms. Friends and families meet to talk about the team. Generations are represented, often with a history of dads, uncles, moms, aunts siblings and cousins playing in past years. With enrollments of less than 200 students and in some cases less than 100 students, everyone kinda knows everyone else
Here is where the term “Northern New Mexico” style of play on the basketball court was born. Typically fast-paced and up-and-down the court with a full-court press on defense and a run-and-gun offense, the intimate little gyms reverberate with the cheers of the fans. Battles during district completion, particularly among traditional rivals, are eagerly looked forward to. District competition begins in earnest this week for most schools. District 5-2A consists of schools in Rio Arriba County and Taos County, along with Mora High School of Mora County.
District 5-2A Boy’s Basketball
Escalante High School is currently leading the district with a 2-0 record and has the best overall record at 10-7 on the season. Veteran coach Isaac Royston has taken over the program this season. Overall a young team, sophomores Santiago Rivas and Chris Luna are the leading scorers for the Lobos. Escalante has already picked up key road wins against Questa High School and Mesa Vista High School. The Lobos host Penasco High School Thursday in their next district game.
Mora High School looks like a contender for the District 5-2A title. The Rangers are also 2-0 in district play, but just 7-9 overall. Coached by Marco Sanchez, the Rangers are led by senior Jerome Pacheco. Mora has victories over Escalante and Mesa Vista in tournament play, which do not count in district competition. M0ra and Escalante have a key District 5-2A game Saturday in Mora.
Mesa Vista is coached by Richard Apodaca, who is in his first season with the Trojans. Apodaca had previous experience at Taos High School, St. Michael’s High School and Santa Fe High School. Mesa Vista is 1-1 in District 5-2A, picking up a victory at Coronado High School. Mesa Vista is 7-9 overall. Senior Damian Trujillo is a reliable double-digit scorer for the Trojans. Mesa Vista has a non-district game against McCurdy Charter School Tuesday. The Trojans are at Questa Thursday and host Penasco Saturday in District action.
Penasco is 6-1 overall and 1-1 in District 5-2A with a win over Coronado and a loss at Mora. Brandon Gurule coaches the Panthers. Penasco is looking to perhaps pull off an upset or two to try to improve their rankings. The Panthers are at Escalante Thursday and at Mesa Vista Saturday.
Coronado is 0-2 in District 5-2A with losses to Penasco and Mesa Vista. The Leopards are 6-9 overall. They are coached by veteran Clyde Sanchez. Coronado hosts Mora Thursday and is at Questa on Saturday.
Questa is currently in a serious rebuilding mode and the Wildcats are just 1-14 on the season and 0-1 in District 5-2A. Questa is coached by Dennis Archuleta. The Wildcats host Mesa Vista Thursday and Coronado Saturday.
District 5-2A Girl’s Basketball
Penasco High School is dominating the District 5-2A girls action. The Lady Panthers are 15-1 on the season, ranked number one in the state in Class 2A and are currently 2-0 in District 5-2A. Penasco Coach Mandy Montoya is in her first year. The Panthers are led by a group of seniors who are veterans of the district wars and state basketball tournaments. Carly Gonzales, Ariana MacAuley, Adrianna Tafoya, Alexandria Sandoval and Jennifer Aguilar have done just about everything but win a state championship. That is the goal Penasco is focused on. The Lady Panthers are at Escalante Thursday and at Mesa Vista Saturday in District 5-2A action.
The Escalante Lady Lobos look like the team that could possibly challenge Penasco, although it’s a very long shot. They gave the Panthers a game for a little over three quarters at the Northern Rio Grande tournament before Penasco pulled away. Looking like a team of the future, Escalante starts three freshmen and a sophomore. The Lady Lobos already have two big road wins at Questa and Mesa Vista in district play. They are coached by Rico Deyapp. The Lobos are 10-6 on the season and 2-0 in District 5-2A. They have a showdown with Penasco Thursday at Escalante and are at Mora Saturday.
Mesa Vista is 8-8 on the season and 1-1 in District 5-2A. The Lady Trojans are coached by Bobby Romero. Mesa Vista is a mix of seniors and underclassmen. The Trojans are looking to grab a spot, albeit a lower seed, in the state basketball tournament.
The Questa High School Lady Wildcats are chasing the same goal as Mesa Vista. They are coached by Dale Cisneros. Both the Wildcats and the Trojans look like they’ll fight to see who finishes third in District 5-2A.
Coronado High School is 6-9 on the season and 0-2 in District 5-2A. They are coached by Henry Gettler, who was Escalante’s boys coach last season. Most of their victories have come against weak teams.
Mora is having a very atypical season. Normally district contenders, the Rangerettes are just 3-12 on the year and 0-2 in District 5-2A. They are coached by Mark Montoya.
Other Districts and Teams
McCurdy Charter School is a member of District 2-2A, which is comprised of either charter schools or private schools. Last season, the Bobcats had no competition and easily won both the boys and the girls district championships. This season, the McCurdy boys team will still be the overwhelming favorite to repeat as district champions. None of the other teams in District 2-2A can compete with the Bobcats. McCurdy is led by junior Andres Martinez and senior Josh Esquibel. They are coached by Ernesto Espinoza. The Bobcats are 7-19 overall and have yet to play a district game. McCurdy’s district opener will be against Desert Academy/Santa Fe Waldorf School Feb. 4 at McCurdy.
The Lady Bobcats should have no trouble with most of the teams in District 2-2A, but will have some competition from Academy for Technology and the Classics (ATC) this season in District 2-2A.
McCurdy is 6-10 on the season and has a good group of veteran seniors in Jayme Bustos, Devyn Cordova and Erica Loera. The Bobcats have yet to play a District 2-2A game. The Lady Bobcats open district play Feb. 4 against Desert Academy/Santa Fe Waldorf at McCurdy.
ATC is 6-6 on the season and has yet to play a District 2-2A game. They are mistakenly listed at 0-1 on the MaxPreps website. The Lady Phoenix are coached by veteran Ron Drake. Coach Drake led Pecos High School to the Class 2A state girls basketball championship last season. He later resigned to take the position at ATC. The young Phoenix are composed entirely of underclassmen and have no seniors.
ATC and McCurdy will face each other Feb. 5 in a District 2-2A game at McCurdy. The winner of that game will have the inside track to the district championship
Dulce High School competes in District 1-2A which is composed primarily of high schools in Northwest New Mexico with predominately Native American students. It is a fairly strong district with three teams – Navajo Pine High School, Rehoboth Christian High School, Newcomb High School – currently ranked among the top 10 in the state in Class 2A.
Dulce is 8-8 on the season and 2-1in District1-2A. The Hawks picked up a big win over Newcomb 67-65 Jan. 23 at Dulce. Navajo Pine, which is 5-0 in District 1-2A, defeated Dulce 68-47 Jan. 25 at Navajo Pine. They are coached by Jesus Maes. Santiago Largo is a force inside for the Hawks.
The Lady Hawks got off to a slow start, but have shown signs of improvement. Dulce is 5-12 overall, but 2-1 in District 1-2A with wins over Ramah High School and Navajo Pine. They were defeated by Newcomb. Newcomb is 5-0 in District 1-2A. Dulce is coached by Christiana Yepa.
Dominating Class 2A is three-time boys state champion Pecos High School. The Panthers are 18-1 on the season. Pecos took on Class 5A Clovis High School, beating the Wildcats 58-54 Jan. 23 at Pecos. They are ranked first in the state in Class 2A. The Panthers look almost unstoppable. They compete in District 7-2A, which includes some other strong schools in Santa Rosa High School and Texico High School. Santa Rosa is ranked third and Texico fourth in the state in Class 2A. The Panthers are coached by Ira Harge Jr.
A much-anticipated showdown between Pecos and Magdalena High School will take place Feb. 11 at Pecos. Magdalena is currently ranked second in Class 2A and is undefeated at 17-0 on the season. The Steers compete in District 6-2A.
The Pecos Lady Panthers joined the Pecos boys as state champions last season, capturing the school’s first girls state basketball championship in Class 2A. The Lady Panthers are strong again this season at 15-4 on the season. They have had two losses to Penasco. They look like the favorites to take the District 7-2A title. They are coached by Bryan Gonzales