Trying to hunker down and author a proper recap of a state basketball tournament week is, I imagine, much like trying to hash out which 68 teams belong in the NCAA Tournament. Not everything that should be in this space will be here.
FIRST THINGS FIRST, AND TO REPEAT: As always, I like to begin by welcoming the first-time state champions to the most desirable club there is in New Mexico.
West Mesa’s girls joined. As did the girls from Robertson and Pecos.
Los Lunas’ girls and Atrisco Heritage’s boys were the two repeat champions from 2018. Pecos’ boys and girls swept Class 2A.
SEED ME, SEYMOUR: It’s always good for business when the lower seeds make a postseason run, and only two of the 10 No. 1 seeds – Pecos’ boys and Robertson’s girls – won state titles.
No surprise that in the two divisions with the most quality depth, Class 5A and 4A boys, we had the two lowest-seeded champions, in the form of No. 7 Valley (4A) and No. 6 Atrisco Heritage (5A).
The lowest-seeded team to reach a final was the fan-friendly Mescalero Apache girls, the 8 seed in Class 2A, and who advanced there without a single senior on their roster. Undoubtedly, they’ll be back in short order.
DOUBLE TIME: Two men who already had won championships as players, Vince Homer (Lovington 1983) and Manny Otero (Albuquerque High 1993), are now also championship-winning coaches.
Homer, the former Rio Rancho High boys coach and Lovington native (and a terrific guy), had never coached girls basketball until he took over at Tatum this season. Otero led the West Mesa girls to a blue trophy.
Another coach that won a title, Derek Bean of Hot Springs, once played for current Manzano boys coach Dominick Romero when Romero was coaching in Truth or Consequences.
Romero was sitting three rows behind the Tigers’ bench on Saturday, cheering and visibly thrilled for Bean’s victory.
NO AVERAGE JOE: The state title by the Valley boys was perhaps as unexpected as it was emotional for longtime coach Joe Coleman.
It was only five months ago that Joe’s brother, Jim, died. Jimmy was an ardent supporter of Valley basketball. Which had to make Saturday a bittersweet day.
On another note, I instructed our guy who covered the 4A final, Pat Newell, to ask Joe a question in the postgame. I’d long suspected he was reluctant – maybe more than any Valley coach – to have Valley drop down into the second-largest class. Everyone knew he believed the Vikings could remain relevant and competitive in 5A.
Here was his response to Pat’s question on Saturday on how he felt about Valley dropping down:
“At the beginning of the year when we had to make that choice, it was tough for me. I didn’t want to do it,” Coleman said. “I like our kids competing at the highest level. But the kids at 4A compete just as hard and play just as hard.”
I will say here what I said to Joe’s face after Valley knocked out Hope Christian on Wednesday: given that the Vikings had no starters returning this season, how out of sorts they were early on in the campaign, and their overall youth, this is, from my chair, the best coaching job he’s ever done in the North Valley.
TIED, NOT BROKEN: Hope Christian’s boys didn’t get that record-breaking seventh consecutive state title, so the Huskies will share the all-time mark with Albuquerque Academy (1989-94).
Which was the more impressive of the two? Let me interject this one fact into the conversation: as stellar as Hope has been, the Huskies won six in a row in the third-largest class. The Chargers did it in the second largest.
PLAGIARIZING MYSELF: This tweet, posted during the Del Norte-Gallup boys quarterfinal, generated some laughs on social media:
“If Del Norte beats Gallup, having already beaten Española Valley last week in the first round, the NMAA is going to give Del Norte a 5-year ban as punishment for taking money out of their coffers.”
Hey, he said it, not me. And Del Norte, a 12 seed, did beat Gallup.
REVIEW DEBUT: The first video review of last week occurred on Friday night during the Mescalero Apache-Pecos girls final, and it seemed to go smoothly. The delay lasted several minutes. The real loser was Chief freshman Pearl Pike, forced to wait for the results (to determine the time remaining) before shooting a free throw with 0.1 seconds left that would have put Mescalero into the final. She missed. I felt just horrible for her.
IN CONCLUSION: As we fade to black, I want to say that the basketball was largely excellent last week. I’m not fond of attaching labels to individual tournaments and saying this one or that one was the best ever. Let’s just say I’d put 2019 in the 90th percentile.
There were overtimes and buzzer-beaters and a bevy of fantastic games and a river of tears from winners and losers alike. The crowds, especially on Saturday, were amazing.
For all of us, the withdrawals begin.