ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Winter ended this week, but technically, the winter sports season for prep sports extends until the end of March.
In all candor, it’s been a remarkable winter.
Four Rio West schools – Valley, Volcano Vista, Cibola and Rio Rancho – won a state championship. And we might get another at the state spirit competition at the Pit next weekend.
Of the four, Cibola’s triumph in the pool was one of the more unexpected victories.
Never had the Cougars won a boys swimming championship, but they outlasted all of New Mexico’s recognized powers – La Cueva, Eldorado, et al – and earned a title last month. (And don’t forget Rio Rancho’s boys, who placed third.)
Rio Rancho’s wrestling championship was 180 degrees from Cibola. The Rams had only one real contender to deal with at state, that being Rio Grande. (Sorry, Cleveland.)
The Rams won a handful of key matches, and the program won its 11th blue trophy in the last 11 years.
It had been since 2011 that Rio Rancho last won state, and three years, for this incredible program, rates – with a straight face – as a long dry spell.
What’s worse, the Rams watched rival Cleveland, a new school, win state championships in 2012 and 2013, elbowing the Rams off the top of the podium in a sport that as much as any is based in machismo.
It was difficult – and that’s putting it mildly – for Rio Rancho to watch Cleveland enter the fray so quickly and reach those heights.
When you get down to it, the Rams’ depth, plus the fact that Rio Rancho had three returning state champions, proved to be the difference between not just the Rams and Cleveland, but the Rams and everybody. Volcano Vista also bagged a trophy; the Hawks placed third.
Basketball was the most bountiful sport of all.
You know, state tournaments are so blissfully unpredictable.
There are just so many ways a terrific season can suddenly go south. It could be foul trouble, an unexpected sprained ankle to an all-state point guard, running into a hot shooting team, nerves, a buzzer-beater … these tournaments can bite anyone.
Think of Cibola’s girls, who were the best team in the metro area all season. But the Cougars didn’t get to the finals. Volcano Vista, a team Cibola beat four times in the regular season, did.
Anyone can be had at state. We saw that with the Clovis girls, who were undefeated before being outplayed in the semifinals by Volcano Vista, which went on to win a championship two days later, in another upset, this one against No. 3 Mayfield.
The Hawks, as a 5 seed (I mistakenly labeled them as a 3 seed earlier this week; my bad), didn’t seem like the most likely candidate to beat Clovis, but not only did Volcano stop the Wildcats but they avenged a regular-season loss to the Trojans as well.
Clovis’ Danni Williams is arguably the most recruited girls basketball player New Mexico has ever had, but last week, Volcano Vista’s Hannah Fenske was most definitely this state’s best player. And most certainly Class 5A’s most valuable player.
The Hawks played outstanding basketball in the championship game, some poor free-throw shooting in the final minute notwithstanding. They were not the state’s best team during the 2013-14 season. But they were in the final 72 hours. As such, they were a worthy champion.
The same, of course, can be said of Valley.
The Vikings capped a terrific week, and season, beating Atrisco Heritage 56-42 in the finals seven days ago. They were not threatened in their three games at the Pit, and it is extraordinarily difficult to get through three games at the Pit without being tested.
Some years, the best team does not always win state. Like Las Cruces’ boys in 2013. The Bulldawgs were not the best team, they were the hottest team.
This season, New Mexico had a proper champion. And, as I tweeted after the final, it was a nice moment for Valley’s loyal fans, who are the most passionate in the metro area. They waited many years for this.
On a personal note, it was satisfying to see Valley coach Joe Coleman finally get his coaching ring. I’ve known Joe since high school. I remember the days when his son, Bo, was just a little kid bouncing around the gym. But it was a heartwarming moment for the entire North Valley – and for that father and son, who shared a special hug – to watch them celebrate this title.
Now if Joe would only smile. (Dude, seriously. Lighten up.)
I hope the spring provides just as many thrills and memories; we already are in the final eight weeks of the school year.
But I doubt anything will top this just-completed winter wonderland.