The record may not be gaudy, but the St. Michael’s boys basketball team is moving right along the path coach David Rodriguez sought.
“We’re still a work in progress,” he said. “But we’re starting to do a lot of things much better. We’re coming together as a team and trusting each other. Everyone to a man has become more confident. And we have a lot more confidence in each other. We’re doing it together.”
The Horsemen are ranked No. 1 in the NMOT Class 3A coach’s poll despite a 12-7 record, 3-0 in 2-3A play entering their game late Friday at Robertson. But all the losses were to teams one or two classes higher.
The defeats were important to the team’s improvement, Rodriguez said. “We owe a lot of success to the big schools,” he said. “The put some butt-whooppings on us. They were playing at a different speed and we had to adjust. But now we’re playing at a different speed than most of district and the district has had to adjust to our higher speed now.”
Rodriguez, in his second season after taking over from legendary coach Ron Geyer, said last year’s results were disappointing because neither he nor the team fulfilled the expectations he had.
“Last year, we were inconsistent,” he said. “We’d be on one night or one half and then not the next.”
There has been some of that kind of inconsistency this year when playing the bigger schools, but Rodriguez said he was able to get the players to realize they needed to bring the effort for four quarters every night.
“We’ve all failed together,” he said. “At times, we’ve gotten our butts kicked and we performed way under the level we’re working to get to. We underachieved at times against bigger schools. We were disappointed in that. Individuals were disappointed in themselves, we were disappointed in ourselves as a team. I was disappointed in myself as a coach.”
During one stretch in late December and early January, the Horsemen lost five of six games and Rodriguez brought out the get-tough stick in practice.
“We talked about turning failure into a stepping stone for success,” he said. “We started working hard, pushing each other more. There were times I was not their favorite guy. For a lot of days there in early January, I wasn’t putting up with any mistakes in practice. We were working to be perfect in practice so we could be better in games. The kids embraced it. That can be painful, but that’s propelled us to having more success.”
Indeed, the Horsemen easily won three in a row before a big district game Tuesday against Santa Fe Indian School. Despite being without their big man Hayden Lee, who missed the game with a concussion, St. Michael’s ran away from the Braves late for a 56-45 victory that has the Horsemen in first place in the district.
St. Mike’s is a veteran-laden team with eight seniors to go along with a junior and two freshmen.
“Everybody plays,” Rodriguez said. “We go in shifts, five in and five out. And we’ve gotten to the point where there is no drop-off with the second five in.”
Lee was the leading weapon in district play before Tuesday, with 13 points and nine rebounds. Thomas Wood has been at 10 points and eight boards, and point guard Jevon Montoya has been scoring 12 points a game.
“We have a lot of people that can put up eight, nine points a game,” Rodriguez said. “We have really balanced scoring. Right now, it doesn’t matter to us who is scoring, as long as we’re winning.”