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Boys prep basketball: Metro-area team capsule previews

— Compiled by James Yodice, Randy Harrison, Steve Virgen, Ken Sickenger, Bob Christ, Kevin Hendricks, Dustan Copeland, Eric Butler

ALBUQUERQUE ACADEMY CHARGERS

Coach: Jake Herrin (1st year)

Last season: 7-19

Returning starters: 1

Key players: Ryan Yassin, 6-0, jr., SG; Brady Forde, 6-1, jr., FW/P; Max Kunz, 5-11, jr., W; Skyler Forman, 5-10, sr., SG/PG.

Outlook: Herrin comes over from Valencia where he was coaching the Jaguars, and inherits a young, inexperienced group that is junior-heavy. Yassin and Forde are the only two players for the Academy who have played a decent amount of varsity minutes, Herrin said. He will be busy this first season putting in his system and trying to establish a new culture.

ALBUQUERQUE HIGH BULLDOGS

Coach: Ron Garcia (14th year)

Last season: 16-12; lost to Valley in 6A first round

Returning starters: 1

Key players: Dominic Gutierrez, 5-9, sr., G; Devin Serrano, 5-9, sr., G; Jude Tapia, 5-10, jr., G; Austyn Perea, 5-10, soph., G.

Outlook: This, Garcia said, is one of the smallest teams he has ever coached, either at Rio Grande or at AHS. Therefore, he said, the Bulldogs will change their style to accomodate the personnel on the floor, as Albuquerque High has only three kids taller than 6 feet on the roster. On the plus side, it’s a quick team that shoots the ball fairly well, and Garcia said Tapia is one of the best players the school has had. This team expects to see a whole lot of zone defenses this season.

ATRISCO HERITAGE ACADEMY JAGUARS

Coach: Adrian Ortega (10th year)

Last season: 26-3; Class 6A state champions

Returning starters: 2

Key players: Joziah Ramos, 5-8, jr., PG; DeMarcus Sutphen, 6-4, sr., FW; Isaiah Brooks, 5-9, soph., SG; Eligah Gaxiola, 6-2, jr., FW; Marquis Crawford, 6-4, sr., P.

Outlook: The Jaguars set out to defend their blue trophy, and the cupboard is far from bare. Ramos is a dynamite scorer and this team should be effective from the perimeter. Rebounding, however, is a concern for Ortega, particularly because of the school’s new district that includes the likes of Cleveland and Volcano Vista. Sutphen is arguably 5A’s best defensive stopper. Jags should once again be stout into March.

BELEN EAGLES

Coach: Andrew Dunnell (2nd year)

Last season: 26-7; Class 5A state champions

Returning starters: 0

Key players: Alexes Aguilar, 6-5, sr., P; Mateo Tapis, 5-6, sr., PG; Gabriel Hessinger, 6-3, sr., P; Jacob Garcia, 6-2, sr., FW; Chris Chavez, 6-0, sr., SG.

Outlook: Aguilar, an extremely athletic and agile player, is the only Eagle who had significant playing time last season who is back this season. Clearly, this team won’t have the talent or experience of the group that hoisted the blue trophy last March, so Belen is likely going to be a bit of a slow starter, although its schedule is not altogether unfavorable in the first half. Thoug Aguilar has finesse, Dunnell wants Aguilar to become a more potent physical force inside.

BERNALILLO SPARTANS

Coach: Terry Darnell (25th year)

Last season: 29-2; lost to Hope Christian in 4A championship game

Returning starters: 3

Key players: Reyes Herrera, 5-10, sr., SG; Fernando Villegas 5-9, jr., G; Luis Villegas, 5-10, jr., PG; Aron Neely, 5-11, sr., FW; Gabriel Prairie, 5-7, soph., G.

Outlook: The Spartans, like Hope, are moving into the second-largest class this season. They’ve got terrific guards on this team, led by Herrera, who led Bernalillo with about 17 points a game last season. But Darnell did see some big guys graduate, so they’ll have to be sharper defensively and pressure the ball a lot more without the safety net in the middle. It was a rough summer, Darnell said, but he still believes this group will be ready for the playoffs come March.

BOSQUE SCHOOL BOBCATS

Coach: Clifton Davidson (4th year)

Last season: 4-22

Key players: Dante Boeglin, 5-7, sr., PG; Elijah Davidson, 6-4, jr., PG; Eyob Lubin, 5-8, soph., SG; Anthony Sanchez, 5-6, fresh., SG.

Outlook: “We have almost everyone returning (including son Elijah) from last year except for two seniors and I think we can win district,” Davidson said of the newly configured Class 5-3A. “Bernalillo won district last year, but they’re not with us this season.”

CIBOLA COUGARS

Coach: Ray Rodriguez (21st year)

Last season: 5-20

Returning starters: 1

Key players: Jacob Garza, 6-2, sr., FW; Evan Franklin, 6-1, sr., G; Steve Barela, 6-0, soph., G; Bradyn Arrenius, 6-5, fresh., P; Jeremiah Ortiz, 5-11, fresh., G.

Outlook: Rodriguez said he can’t remember a team in his career, either at Highland or at Cibola, that is as young as this team. Not many returners other than Garza, although Rodriguez is intrigued by a transfer from Illinois, Arrenius, who he believes will step in and play immediately. May be tough sledding for the Cougars, especially in their district. Baptism by fire, is how Rodriguez described it.

CLEVELAND STORM

Coach: Sean Jimenez (3rd year)

Last season: 22-10; lost to Atrisco Heritage in 6A championship game

Returning starters: 4

Key players: Jalen Munn, 6-4, sr., W; Aamer Muhammad, 6-0, sr., PG; Tre Watson, 6-5, soph., P; Naqui Smith, 5-10, sr., G; Josh Tarry, 6-3, sr., P.

Outlook: This is going to be a fast, explosive, experienced team, and a hungry one, too, after a narrow loss to Atrisco Heritage in the state final last March. This team is almost freakishly athletic, led by Munn, Muhammad and especially Watson who was so brilliant in the playoffs a season ago. The Storm could stand to shoot the ball a bit better, if there is one (minor) quibble with this roster. But it’s a minor quibble. Possibly 5A’s best team.

COTTONWOOD CLASSICAL PREP COYOTES

Coach: Chris Trujillo (3rd year)

Last season: 8-16

Returning starters: 4

Key players: Abenicio Maestas, 5-9, jr., PG; Connor Kenny, 5-10, sr., SG; Myles Papponi, 5-10, jr., FW; Kevin Nieto, 6-2, sr., P; Pierce Ulibarri, 5-9, soph., G.

Outlook: In Maestas, the Coyotes had a player who averaged about 27 points a game as a sophomore, so he’ll be among the more entertaining players in the metro area this season. Bigger picture, Cottonwood has more experience on this roster (it had no seniors last season), so Trujillo certainly expects this team to contend for a playoff berth. They will play home games at LBJ Middle School.

DEL NORTE KNIGHTS

Coach: Jeron McIntosh (3rd year)

Last season: 11-16; lost to Roswell in 5A first round

Returning starters: 3

Key players: Malik Barton, 6-2, jr., SG/PG; Jordan Nelson, 6-3, sr., W; David Flores, 5-9, jr., G; Bryant Brock, 6-2, sr., P.

Outlook: The Knights are fairly top-heavy with talented, experienced players, but McIntosh worries beyond the first six or seven how this team will find depth. Top two scorers graduated, so Barton, Nelson and Brock, the three starters who are back, are going to have to fill that void and in other categories, too. Del Norte was in the state semis just two years ago, and the Knights want to get back to the Pit.

EAST MOUNTAIN TIMBERWOLVES

Coach: Joe Vigil (4th year)

Last season: 12-15

Key players: Aaron Talamante, 6-2, sr., G; Jose Perea, 5-7, sr., G; Arian Rogers, 5-6, sr., G; Parker Sweat, 6-3, jr., P; Will Merkey, 5-11, jr., G.

Outlook: The Timberwolves will lean on their trio of senior guards to improve on last season’s results. Vigil says the experience of his top five players will contribute to stout team defense and hopefully carry his team to a district title and a state tournament bid.

ELDORADO EAGLES

Coach: Roy Sanchez (26th year)

Last season: 25-3; lost to Cleveland in 6A semifinals

Returning starters: 2

Key players: Kameron Valencia, 6-4, sr., FW; Tyler Quintana, 6-1, sr., PG; Cameron Carter, 6-4, sr., FW; Garrett Warren, 6-3, sr., FW; Coby Coon, 6-2, sr., FW.

Outlook: While several important players graduated, the Eagles have two stellar starters back in Valencia and Quintana. Valencia is one of the most athletic players in New Mexico, and can play inside or outside. Can jump out of the gym, too. Quintana will be the engine for this team, running the show, and he’s also a fine shooter. Sanchez said his team has turned the page on the bitter, and controversial, loss to Cleveland last March. Sanchez also looking to see how role players develop.

EVANGEL CHRISTIAN/OAK GROVE CO-OP

Coach: Edward Khader, Jr. (3rd year)

Last season: 13-17; lost to Quemado in 1A quarterfinals

Key players: Edward Khader III, 5-5, sr., G; Isaiah Zunic, 5-10, soph., G/FW; A.J. Thompson, 5-9, sr., P; Andreas Garcia, 5-11, fresh., G.

Outlook: Slow starts have been the norm for the Eagles the last two seasons, but state assist-leader Khader III (8.7 apg) leads a group that has experience and might be stronger at the get-go. The Eagles, which has one player from Oak Grove (Zunic) as part of a co-op, might not be such a shock this time around.

HIGHLAND HORNETS

Coach: Justin Woody (2nd year)

Last season: 3-22

Returning starters: 4

Key players: Ramon Limas, 6-0, sr., G; Erasmo Carreon, 5-8, jr., SG/PG; Tommy Huynh, 5-7, jr., PG; Josh Barraza, 6-3, jr., FW; Raul Marquez, 6-2, jr., G.

Outlook: The Hornets, who return five of their top seven individual leaders in every category, should clearly pick up a few more wins this season, and they hope to be playoff-caliber. Carreon led the team in scoring last season, Barraza led in rebounding and Huynh was the top assist man. Due to construction, Highland won’t have any home games until about mid-January. Hornets dropping down a class this year; they are a 4A program.

HOPE CHRISTIAN HUSKIES

Coach: Jim Murphy (23-8)

Last season: 23-8; Class 4A state champions

Returning starters: 3

Key players: Johnny Nitafan, 5-10, sr., G; Isaiah Dockery, 5-10, sr., PG; Grant Ulibarri, 5-10, jr., G; Collin Evans, 6-5, jr., FW; Dru Ulibarri, 6-3, sr., P.

Outlook: The state is very anxious to see how the Huskies fare moving from the third-largest class to the second-largest. Bad news for the field: Hope Christian is deep, has a great backcourt (Nitafan and Dockery are going to be a formidable pair) and plenty of motivation to prove to people they can win blue trophies in Class 4A now, too. (5A is the largest class currently.) Evans will be a versatile piece to this puzzle, as well.

LA CUEVA BEARS

Coach: Frank Castillo (33rd year)

Last season: 18-11; lost to Hobbs in 6A first round

Returning starters: 2

Key players: Derek Aeilts, 6-4, jr., G; Isaiah Ortega, 6-5, sr., P; Zach Garcia, 6-0, sr., SG/PG; Micah Cooper, 5-8, jr., PG; Jalen Lopez, 5-11, sr., G.

Outlook: Led by Aeilts, a terrific talent, and big man Ortega, the Bears should again be in the mix this season. Aeilts averaged about 14 points a game last season, and is expected to do even more scoring this season. Ortega is an outstanding rebounder, but the Bears will ask him to contribute a bit more at the offensive end, as well. Castillo is still playing a wait-and-see game with several of the other members of this group, and La Cueva also will have a difficult schedule.

LOS LUNAS TIGERS

Coach: Travis Julian (7th year)

Last season: 24-6; lost to Belen in 5A semifinals

Returning starters: 4

Key players: Zanen Zeller, 6-3, sr., PG; A.J. Garcia, 6-5, sr., P; Darius Haywood, 6-1, sr., SG; Joe Dominguez, 5-7, sr., G; Josiah Navarro, 6-1, soph., FW.

Outlook: Here is one of 4A’s best groups, a team that has an excellent chance to win a state title in the spring. Zeller is such a versatile and smart player, and such a superb passer, he elevates Los Lunas anytime he is on the floor. The Tigers are big, athletic and experienced (watch for Garcia, definitely an important part of this team’s success), and when you factor in Haywood and Dominguez, Los Lunas has as good a starting unit as anyone.

MANZANO MONARCHS

Coach: Dominick Romero (2nd year)

Last season: 15-11; lost to West Mesa in 6A first round

Returning starters: 4

Key players: Dakota Powell, 6-2, sr., SG; Jack Blankenship, sr., 6-4, FW; Tyler Allen, 6-2, sr., FW; James Sandoval, 5-11, sr., FW; Roman Romero, 6-1, jr., PG.

Outlook: Expectations are definitely high with the Monarchs, who made great strides in Romero’s first season after a terrible 2016-17 campaign. The nonditrict portion of the schedule has been toughened, and Manzano has lost some size from last season, so rebounding is a focus. Allen, Powell and Blankenship all will have increased roles in the offense. The goal this season is to get to the Pit.

MENAUL PANTHERS

Coach: Gary Boatman (6th year)

Last season: 26-6; lost to Fort Sumner/House in 2A championship

Key players: Carlos Fuentes, 6-5, jr., G; Dylan Lerch, 6-2, sr., P; Dereck Pyle, 5-11, jr., G; Santiago Henry, 6-1, jr., G/FW; Cody Leslie, 6-3, jr., P.

Outlook: The Panthers haven’t lowered their goals to contend for a state title despite losing 6-9 Michael Ou to Division I Cal State Northridge. It’s otherwise largely the same group., but now quicker and able to play more up-tempo. December will be telling: there are games with Sandia Prep, Albuquerque Academy and tournaments at Cleveland and Pojoaque.

MISSION ACHIEVEMENT & SUCCESS BULLS

Coach: Kenny Fulton (2nd year)

Last season: N/A; this is first season of NMAA competition

Key players: Nicholas Abrego, 5-9, jr., PG; Jonathan Gallamore, 6-2, soph., P; Gavin Chapman, 6-1, jr., G; Julian Baca, 5-11, jr., G; Dominic Mireles, 5-11, sr., G.

Outlook: Fulton, a 2008 Sandia High grad, coached the Bulls through a schedule of exhibition and JV games last season. He believes his team is ready for a split schedule that includes both Albuquerque Charter School League and NMAA competition, the latter in District 6-2A. “We don’t have a lot of size so we’ll have to be good defensively,” Fulton said, “but I feel we can be very competitive. We’re up for the challenge.”

MORIARTY PINTOS

Coach: Marcus Ortiz (1st year)

Last season: 20-9; lost to Bernalillo in 4A semifinals

Key players: Caleb Flaming, 6-3, sr., P; Michael Pisz, 5-6, jr., G; Santiago Montoya, 5-8, sr., G; Hunter Coey, 6-0, sr., FW; Tyler Ortiz 6-5, jr., P.

Outlook: Seasoning one year turns into inexperience the next when almost everyone graduates. That’s the case for the Pintos, who came within a round of the state final last year. Only one starter returns, although that player is ineligible at least for the first part of the season, but Ortiz feels like the new crew will be fine once “the kids learn the system.”

NATIVE AMERICAN COMMUNITY ACADEMY EAGLES

Coach: Valerie Phipps (1st year)

Last season: 5-18

Key players: Ben Lee, 5-10, sr., G; Trent Redden, 5-10, sr., FW; Malachi Saiz, 5-9, jr., G; Orion French, 5-11, fresh., FW; David Newton, 5-8, soph., PG.

Outlook: Phipps, who was the Eagles’ assistant the past two seasons, brings 20 years of coaching experience at various spots. She said she is tasked with the job of building a team that has talent but struggles when it falls behind in games. “Mental toughness is something that we need to work on,” she said. “They have been on the lower end of the totem pole for so long that has been missing. We do have a lot of speed.” With 11 returners, Phipps expects improvement.

RIO GRANDE RAVENS

Coach: Mario Armendariz (3rd year)

Last season: 6-19

Returning starters: 4

Key players: Jeremy Lopez, 6-1, sr., G; Mario Armendariz, 6-1, sr., FW; James Romero, 6-0, sr., FW; Jesus Gutierrez, 6-1, sr., FW/P; Justin Earnest, 6-4, sr., G.

Outlook: The Ravens, with most of their starting unit back, look to be much more competitive this season. During the offseason, Armendariz — who is emphatic about his group always thinking team first — prioritized defense, where it has to begin. This is a speedy team that the coach thinks will give other team issues, and this is also a team that upset Hope Christian early last season, and lost an unusually large number of close games. Lopez led the team in scoring last season.

RIO RANCHO RAMS

Coach: Wally Salata (10th year)

Last season: 16-13; lost to Cleveland in 6A first round

Returning starters: 1

Key players: Blaine Gallegos, 6-5, sr., P; David Patterson, 6-3, sr., G/FW; Isaiah Chavez, 5-11, jr., G; Owen Olney, 6-0, jr., W; Cash Carrasco, 6-3, sr., FW.

Outlook: Patterson already has signed with Air Force, so he’ll be on opposing teams’ radar this season, to be sure. Depth is the real concern for the Rams, even more so because of the difficulty of their district. Salata likes his starting five, which will be athletic with Olney and Carrasco, but Rio Rancho will need a second ball-handler after Patterson — who is the last of four very talented brothers to come through this school. Young kids will have to pick up key minutes this season.

SANDIA MATADORS

Coach: Alvin Broussard (11th year)

Last season: 10-17; lost to Las Cruces in 6A first round

Returning starters: 3

Key players: Elijah Ferguson, 6-0, sr., PG; Lucas Jordan, 6-5, sr., SG; Shylon Buck elk, 6-3, sr., FW; Steven Cooper, 6-3, sr., P; Deante Bernard, 6-0, sr., G.

Outlook: Sandia is a long, athletic team, and experienced, too, with eight seniors. Which leads Broussard to believe this will be a dangerous team during the next few months. The two things Sandia struggled with last season, a lack of size and experience, are no longer issues, and when you factor in Ferguson, who could lead this team in scoring, the Matadors hope to reverse a trend from last season and start winning close games.

SANDIA PREP SUNDEVILS

Coach: Marcos Rivera (2nd year)

Last season: 13-15; lost to St. Michael’s in 4A first round

Returning starters: 4

Key players: Jacob Montoya, 6-4, sr., P; David Gelb, 6-2, sr., G; Max Feit, 6-3, jr., FW/P; Sam Henderson, 6-4, soph., G; Atlee Gaddis, 6-1, sr., G.

Outlook: Sandia Prep is going to be enormous by a 3A standards, and the Sundevils may end up with a starting five who all go over 6-feet. Some solid pieces on this team, including Feit (who is coming back from a broken hand), plus Henderson, a terrific shooting guard, and Gelb, a rock in the backcourt. The question is, can Sandia Prep get to that next level with second-year coach Rivera? Team defense needs sharpening as well, Rivera said.

ST. PIUS SARTANS

Coach: Damian Segura (16th year)

Last season: 16-11; lost to Española Valley in 5A quarterfinals

Returning starters: 2

Key players: Jason Arnett, 6-0, sr., W; Zach Kolkmeyer, 6-3, sr., FW.

Outlook: With so many football players having just joined the basketball team, look for the Sartans to be a slow-starting group this season as Segura figures out what kind of team he’s got. Arnett and Kolkmeyer have multiple years under their belt as starters, which is a plus; St. Pius needs to work on its shooting. It’s not a big team, but at full strength, Segura ought to have a few athletic and versatile players at his disposal.

VALENCIA JAGUARS

Coach: Josh Mattox (1st year)

Last season: 8-20; lost to Española Valley in 5A first round

Key players: Andres Lucero, 5-11, sr., G; Jake Mattox, 6-1, jr., F; Kyle Dods, 6-4, sr., C.

Outlook: Soon after the end of the 2017-18 season, Jake Herrin left to coach at Albuquerque Academy. Valencia hired Joshua Mattox, who was then one of Herrin’s assistant coaches. Mattox’s prior experience with the team has led to an easy transition. He expects the team to perform well with several returning seniors — including Andres Lucero, who recently recovered from a neck injury in a football game. “We’ve got some great shooters,” said Mattox. “I really think we’re going to surprise a lot of people.”

VALLEY VIKINGS

Coach: Joe Coleman (22nd year)

Last season: 19-9; lost to Atrisco Heritage in 6A quarterfinals

Returning starters: 0

Key players: Derick Chavez, 5-10, soph., SG; Shea Oyeku, 6-0, jr., PG; Tim Gonzales, 6-1, sr., P; Jevon Baker, 6-3, jr., P.

Outlook: Coleman has perhaps never had a team like this, with so much turnover. But Chavez (an explosive scorer) and Oyeku both have varsity experience. Coleman said he feels rejuvinated to start fresh with such a new team. Oyeku takes over at point from the graduated Anthony Chavez, who had that job the last four seasons. Valley, like Highland, dropping into Class 4A and will be district partners with Hope, Del Norte, Bernalillo and Albuquerque Academy.

VOLCANO VISTA HAWKS

Coach: Greg Brown (11th year)

Last season: 20-7; lost to Cleveland in 6A quarterfinals

Returning starters: 3

Key players: Jalontae Gray, 6-0, sr., FW/G; Dion Battle, 5-10, jr., combo G; Cesar Madrid, 6-3, sr., FW; Jake Deatherage, 6-3, sr., FW; Ben Manzano, 6-0, sr., G.

Outlook: Coming off a school-record 20-win season, the Hawks might even be deeper and more impressive this season. There is an abundance of size and experience on this team, plus depth and versatility. Look for Brown to employ a quicker pace than he has in previous years, because of that depth. And this team has a couple of bigs that will be coming off the bench to give the Hawks even more variety. This team has a chance at playing on the season’s final day.

WEST MESA MUSTANGS

Coach: Shonn Schroer (18th year)

Last season: 19-10; lost to Eldorado in 6A quarterfinals

Returning starters: 2

Key players: Eloy Medina, 6-2, jr., G; Izayah Ortiz, 6-6, sr., P; Keyembe Lukusa, 6-3, jr., FW; Miguel Narro, 5-8, sr., G; Dustin Hopinkah, 5-10, soph., G.

Outlook: Medina, a three-year starter, led the Mustangs in scoring last season and is certainly one of the top players in 5A. West Mesa will also have some size at its disposal, led by Ortiz who this year will have to supplement his rebounding and defense with some additional scoring. Inexperience could be an issue for the Mustangs, who lost one of their top players, guard Camren Schroer, to a knee injury during football. He will miss the entire basketball season.

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