SANTA FE, N.M. — It’s hard to believe that another year has come and just about fled. But with Father Time relentlessly striding toward another exit, this is a good time to peer back at the past 12 months and select the top 10 stories of the year. It was an interesting 2017, filled some triumphs, some bumps and some bruises. Some might bring some fond memories, others, well, not so much. No doubt this list will vary significantly from others out there, but that’s what makes these things so much fun. We’ll count down from number 10 to number one.
10: Taos girls win cross-country title again
For the second straight season and fourth time in five seasons, the Tigers cruised to the blue trophy. And they did it fine style indeed. Ella Katz led a Taos sweep of the medal stand, coming home in 20 minutes, 18.8 seconds for her first individual title.
She was followed closely by runner-up teammate and former champion Cora Cannedy in 20:26.45 and third-place Alyx Kastor in 20:27.05. Erin Manchester-Jones also finished ninth to place four Tigers among the top 10 for a dominating 31-76 win over Hope Christian.
9: Pecos boys win third straight cross-country championship
Talking about domination, the Panthers ran away with the threepeat by placing five runners in the top 10 and all seven in the top 25. Former champion Joshua Deherrera led the way with his runner-up finish in 17:10.30, followed by bronze medalist Isaiah Armijo in 17:12.65. Michael Montaño was just off the medal stand in fifth, followed by Angel Varela Gomez in sixth and Devin Gonzales in ninth, giving Pecos a 25-63 win over Zuni.
8: Capital’s José Tapia wins fifth wrestling championship
In the history of New Mexico wrestling, Tapia stands in rarified air as a five-time individual champion. Only six other wrestlers can claim that distinction. Tapia polished off the feat in the 138-pound weight class, dropping Diego Pavia of St. Pius with a fall at the 2:47 mark. Tapia made further news when he committed to wrestle at Boise State, only to have the Broncos drop the program shortly thereafter. Tapia then committed to George Mason.
7: Taos to Texas
It’s a long way from Taos to the University of Texas, but northern New Mexico’s Chris Del Conte leapt that monumental chasm by becoming the Longhorns new vice president and athletic director in December. Raised on a San Cristobal ranch that his parents used as a foster home, Del Conte parlayed his upbringing into a track scholarship, then a career in athletic administration that eventually saw him land one of the premier, and highest-profile, jobs in the NCAA.
6: West Las Vegas forfeits
Greatness was expected for the Dons boys basketball team. But those hopes were dashed by an unexpected source when a volunteer assistant coach videotaped two opponents. In a situation that wound from the basketball court to the court of law, WLV ultimately was penalized with four forfeits – half its district schedule. That caused the Dons’ seeding to plummet and they were handily eliminated by crosstown rival Robertson in the quarterfinals.
5: Robertson dominates girls tennis
The Cardinals tote around the blue trophy as if it’s a birthright, and in some ways, perhaps it is as they won a fourth straight championship and fifth since 2011 with a team populated by a plethora of Fulgenzis. Two sets of Fulgenzi sisters – cousins – made the squad a dominating powerhouse. With the sister sets – Brandelyn and Lauren, and Jaci and Jenese – who met in the doubles finals for a second straight season, Robertson plowed through the team portion with a 19-2 slate.
4: Pecos hoops title
It was a long time coming. Long, as in five decades plus a year before the Panthers boys were able to celebrate a championship. But with a thrilling combination of speed, aggressive and outside shooting, Pecos won their final 29 games, with all but one of those wins by double figures. It all almost went awry, however, when a newspaper story revealed that one of the top players, Carlos Cordova, was living with an assistant coach. The NMAA, however, granted a waiver and Pecos retained their long-awaited hardware.
3: Third time not a charm for Robertson
This is one of the things that is both an admission to greatness, but with an acknowledgment that it could be oh so much better. The Cardinals have been on a remarkable three-year run of reaching the Class 4A football state championship game. In the state’s largest three classifications, only Artesia can make the same claim. Unfortunately for Robertson, it has fallen short all three times. This year, it took an outstanding effort by Ruidoso to knock out the Cards and all-everything quarterback Arjay Ortiz, whose remarkable performance included four rushing touchdowns, two passing touchdowns and making a touchdown-saving interception in the end zone.
2: Scoring record falls
All the cards lined up just right for D.J. Bustos of West Las Vegas. Raised by basketball coaches and blessed with a smooth-as-silk shooting stroke honed by endless hours in the gym, Bustos early on took aim at the all-classes scoring record. And when his five varsity seasons for the Dons were completed, he had amassed 2,689 points to sit alone atop the New Mexico state scoring ladder, surpassing Wagon Mound’s Alfred Romero, who stopped playing in 1977. Bustos actually passed Romero’s mark twice as a temporary restraining order (see No. 6) allowed the Dons to play a game that would later be stricken from the record.
1: Española Valley athletics
It wouldn’t be a list of top stories in the north without including the Sundevils and their remarkably untoward athletic program. The litany here is a long and somewhat sorrowful one. Again. There was a shooting allegedly involving a junior varsity basketball player. All the coaches were forced to resubmit applications as a way to force out longtime and successful but controversial boys basketball coach Richard Martinez, which also ended up costing the school its highly successful girls hoops coach Cindy Roybal. Athletic director Eric Vigil left. His replacement, Phil Roybal, has been put on leave, but not before firing football coach Jesus Maes midseason.
There were several other stories that were in consideration, with the primary ones being the Taos boys basketball team forfeiting eight wins for the use of an ineligible player, and the feud between the Las Vegas administration and its police department, which very nearly cost West Las Vegas its girls soccer coach a week before the season started.