ALBUQUERQUE HIGH BULLDOGS
Coach: Ron Garcia (15th year)
Last season: 10-17
Key players: Jude Tapia, 5-11, sr., PG/SG; Austyn Perea, 5-10, jr., G; Mekhi Majedi, 5-9, sr., FW; Lamar Rogers, 6-3, jr., FW.
Outlook: With Tapia, the Bulldogs arguably possess 5A’s most electric offensive presence. He averaged almost 25 points a game last season, and he’s one of the state’s best passing guards. The question is, do the Bulldogs have the players around him to do some damage later in the season? Majedi, who led the team in rebounds last season, is probably AHS’ most versatile talent.
ATRISCO HERITAGE ACADEMY JAGUARS
Coach: Adrian Ortega (10th year)
Last season: 22-7; Class 5A state champions
Key players: Joziah Ramos, 5-8, sr., PG; Elijah Gaxiola, 6-2, sr., G; Isaiah Brooks, 5-11, jr., G; Dominic Rivas, 5-9, sr., G.
Outlook: The Jaguars begin their quest for a rare three-peat, and they’ve surely got the talent to make a run at it in March. Ramos is the best of many terrific guards for Atrisco Heritage, and one of the state’s top clutch shooters. This team is full of good shooters, truth be told. One thing: the young, inexperienced bench will need to pick up more slack than usual.
Coach: Terry Darnell (26th year)
Last season: 15-12; lost to Gallup in 4A first round
Key players: Luis Villegas, 5-10, sr., PG; Fernando Villegos, 5-10, sr., G; Ayden Madrid, 6-0, jr., FW; Damian Lopez, 6-4, jr., FW; Juwan Tenorio, 6-3, sr., W.
Outlook: It is true, Bernalillo is a program that has often thrived on defensive pressure and stellar guard play. And the Spartans will need plenty of both this season, led by Luis Villegas, whose injury midseason was a tough blow to Bernalillo. But, with Lopez and Tenorio, the Spartans also have some length, and in Madrid, they’ve got a tremendous athlete who should be a major impact player.
BOSQUE SCHOOL BOBCATS
Coach: Clifton Davidson (3rd year)
Last season: 17-11; lost to West Las Vegas in 3A first round
Key players: Elijah Davidson, 6-4, sr., PG; Wyatt Vanmeter, 6-6, jr., FW; Anthony Sanchez, 5-10, soph., SG; Ian Kahn, 6-2, sr., G; Finnegan Hautau, 6-3, jr., G.
Outlook: The Bobcats have an elite talent in Davidson, who is going to be one of the top scorers in New Mexico as long as he’s healthy. If Bosque can ease the burden on him, and have some others provide quality output — Kahn is an example, but not the only one — then it will have a chance to perhaps win a couple of games the second week of March. This is a fairly big group.
Coach: Ray Rodriguez (22nd year)
Last season: 1-24
Key players: Steven Barela, 6-1, jr., PG; Brady Arrenius, 6-5, soph., P; Jeremiah Ortiz, 6-0, soph., G; Zach Mascarenas, 6-0, sr., G; Jacob Olivares, 5-10, jr., G.
Outlook: Rodriguez has perhaps never had a season do troubling as the last one, but four starters return, so Cibola should certainly be much more competitive this season, despite being a fairly young squad. Rodriguez’s boys lifted with the football team in their offseason, then went out and had a solid summer. Barela is this team’s best player, and he should prove to be a reliable floor general for the Cougars.
Coach: Sean Jimenez (4th year)
Last season: 26-7; lost to Atrisco Heritage in OT in 5A semifinals
Key players: Tre Watson, 6-5, jr., FW; Nathan Hasberry, 6-2, jr., G; Evan Gonzales, 5-10, jr., G; Aiden Moreno, 6-3, sr., FW; Jeff Davison, 6-1, jr., G.
Outlook: The Storm has reached at least the state semis the last three seasons, but Cleveland was ravaged by graduation in the backcourt, and it will need to identify new playmaking guards. Jimenez said Hasberry, Gonzales, Davison and possibly Dorian Lewis all could fill various voids — but it’s Watson who is this team’s best player and go-to option. He could easily average a double-double this season.
COTTONWOOD CLASSICAL PREP COYOTES
Coach: Santiago Maestas (1st year)
Last season: 2-20
Key players: Abenicio Maestas, 5-10, sr., PG; Myles Papponi, 6-0, sr., P; Thomas Hielkema, 6-0, jr., G; Pierce Ulibarri, 5-10, jr., G.
Outlook: Maestas was an assistant coach before taking over this season; it’s Maestas the player who will be a focal point this season. He averaged about 25 points a game as a sophomore, but broke his wrist early last season. He is back and healthy, and he should be a hugely entertaining player to watch. Cottonwood only has five “home” games, all at James Monroe Middle School, and only at the end of the season against district foes.
Coach: Roy Sanchez (27th year)
Last season: 22-7; lost to Santa Fe in 5A quarterfinals
Key players: Deraje Agbaosi, sr., 6-6, FW; Jayvon Jefferson, sr., 6-4, FW; Matt Vigil, sr., 5-9, G; Jacob Riach, jr., 5-8, G; Devin Domina-Lovato, jr., G.
Outlook: This has been one of 5A’s most dangerous 3-point shooting teams in recent seasons, but led by Agbaosi, an incredibly talented and lengthy presence whose versatility allows him to score and defend — and swat shots with that frame — Eldorado expects to have a strong inside game this season as well. One question is who will fill the scoring void in the backcourt after a couple of graduations.
Coach: Justin Woody (3rd year)
Last season: 15-11; lost to Valley in 4A first round
Key players: Erasmo Carreon, 5-8, sr., G; Tommy Huynh, 5-8, sr., G; Raul Marquez, 6-2, sr., G; Josh Barraza, 6-4, sr., FW; Jose Murillo, 6-8, soph., P.
Outlook: This is one of 4A’s best and most explosive and entertaining teams, and the Hornets are on the VERY short list of teams that can win a blue trophy in March. Their top four scorers — Carreon, Huynh, Marquez and Barraza — all return, and Murillo is a legit post, if still not quite completely polished. Carreon was the leading scorer last season, and second-team All-State for Highland, which once again faces a daunting nondistrict schedule, followed by an equally daunting district campaign.
HOPE CHRISTIAN HUSKIES
Coach: Jim Murphy (37th year)
Last season: 20-9; lost to Valley in 4A quarterfinals
Key players: Collin Evans, 6-5, sr., FW; Grant Ulibarri, 5-10, sr., G; Sean Martinez, 5-11, jr., G.
Outlook: The Huskies, of course, figure to be one of 4A’s most competitive and talented teams, although they face a super-difficult district that includes the defending state champ (Valley), plus an extremely dangerous Highland squad. Hope has a bit more size than usual, led by Evans and Ryan Cosper, but less experience in the backcourt where the Huskies graduated the team’s leading two scorers. Expect multiple players to have to contribute on the scoring end.
LA CUEVA BEARS
Coach: Frank Castillo (34th year)
Last season: 16-11; lost to Cleveland in 5A first round
Key players: Derek Aeilts, 6-5, sr., SG; Ja’Shon Lowery, 6-5, jr., P; Micah Cooper, 5-9, sr., G; Tristan Moore, 6-5, sr., G/FW.
Outlook: This certainly has a chance to be one of the Bears’ best teams in years, led by Aeilts, who shot nearly 50 percent from the arc last season and may be one of 5A’s top two or three leading scorers during the 2019-20 season. La Cueva is experienced and athletic, with good size. Can other Bears step forward to be complimentary pieces to Aeilts? One major goal is to try to get a first-round home game at state. “This team can make a lot of noise,” Castillo said.
Coach: Dominick Romero (3rd year)
Last season: 14-13; lost to Santa Fe in 5A first round
Key players: Roman Romero, 6-1, sr., SG; Spenser Kalivoda, 6-1, sr., SG; Jack Kalivoda, 6-1, sr., FW; Dylan Grube, 6-3, jr., P; Austin Erickson, 6-0, sr., SG.
Outlook: Only one starter (Romero) returns for the Monarchs, who are both undersized and a little bit inexperienced. On the plus side, Manzano figures to be a team that can shoot the rock, run the floor and play solid defense (which could be the strongest asset this team has). Romero is a player that has a chance to play at the next level, and is this team’s most versatile player.
RIO GRANDE RAVENS
Coach: Mario Armendariz (4th year)
Last season: 8-17
Key players: Daniel Chavez, 6-1, sr., G; Jonah Lopez, 6-3, fresh., utility.
Outlook: The Ravens lost nine seniors so they are most definitely rebuilding. Chavez is the only returning player who has any varsity experience, but Armendariz is very high on Lopez — the cousin of former Atrisco Heritage standout Jordan Arroyo — and calls him 5A’s best freshman and the future of the program. And he probably won’t be the only ninth-grader on the floor this season for the Ravens.
RIO RANCHO RAMS
Coach: Wally Salata (11th year)
Last season: 20-9; lost to Atrisco Heritage in 5A quarterfinals
Key players: Vance Rudolph, 5-10, jr., PG; Christian Lucero, 6-1, jr., W; Jeremiah Morris, 6-4, soph., P.
Outlook: Rio Rancho was hit hard by graduation, and the transfer of another player to Magdalena, so the Rams are going to have to work hard to find scoring options. But, maybe Rio Rancho can use this to its advantage without a go-to scorer or two for defenses to focus on. This will be a quicker team than last season, Salata said, albeit a generally smaller roster.
Coach: Danny Brown (1st year)
Last season: 10-15
Key players: Shawn Johnson, 6-5, soph., FW; Ely Lovato, 6-1, fresh., combo G; Seth Garcia, 6-1, sr., G; Preston Hieb, 6-4, jr., W.
Outlook: This is Brown’s second head coaching stint; he was with Highland for 14 seasons before joining the Matadors as an assistant a couple of years ago. This is a long and athletic group, but it lacks varsity experience, and Brown worries about how this may manifest itself during the first half of the season against a tough schedule. Johnson is the only starter returning, and this team’s most talented player.
SANDIA PREP SUNDEVILS
Coach: Marcos Rivera (3rd year)
Last season: 20-11; lost to Hot Springs in 3A semifinals
Key players: Sam Henderson, 6-5, jr., W; Max Feit, 6-3, sr., W; Austin Epstein, 6-4, jr., P; Nick Chavez, 5-10, jr., PG.
Outlook: Sandia Prep certainly is one of the top teams in 3A, and the Sundevils hope they can take that next step come March. Henderson and Feit combined to average about 32 points a game in this unusually large lineup for a 3A program. These are two of the best players in their division, and they will be matchup nightmares given the numerous ways they can score the basketball. A tough nondistrict schedule will benefit this team down the road.
ST. PIUS SARTANS
Coach: Ryan Myers (1st year)
Last season: 15-12
Key players: Jonah Arnett, 5-11, jr., PG; Sebastian Ellison, 6-0, sr., FW; Nick Pascuzzi, 5-6, jr., PG.
Outlook: After the outstanding coaching run of Damian Segura, the Sartans start anew with one of Segura’s former players in Myers, a 2009 St. Pius grad and a varsity assistant since 2011. Myers starts his head coaching career with a young, inexperienced team, and only three players in the fold who logged good minutes at the varsity level last season.
Coach: Joe Coleman (23rd year)
Last season: 17-13; Class 4A state champions
Key players: Derick Chavez, 5-9, jr., SG; Seyi Oyeku, 6-0, sr., PG; Adam Giron, 6-1, sr., FW; Jevon Baker, 6-3, sr., P; Gio Casaus, 6-0, sr., G.
Outlook: The Vikings were a .500 team when the playoffs began in March, then authored one of the most amazing runs in state tournament history to claim a blue trophy. And four starters are back off of that team, so Valley is not going to catch anyone by surprise over the next few months. Chavez and Oyeku are an outstanding pair of guards, and Baker gives the Vikings an athletic post who can score.
VOLCANO VISTA HAWKS
Coach: Greg Brown (11th year)
Last season: 23-5; lost to Santa Fe in 5A semifinals
Key players: Dion Battle, 5-10, sr., combo G; Terrin Dickey, 6-7, sr., FW; Ja’Kwon Hill, 6-1, soph., G; Kaden Valdez, 5-11, soph., G; Ian Chavez, 6-2, sr., G.
Outlook: While Volcano Vista saw several major impact players graduate, the Hawks are expected to be very much in the mix come February and March. This team will not be quite as big as its been in recent years, and perhaps not quite as deep, but Volcano Vista has terrific assets like Battle (a four-year starter), Dickey and Hill, who saw considerable time as a freshman.
WEST MESA MUSTANGS
Coach: Shonn Schroer (18th year)
Last season: 10-15
Key players: Eloy Medina, 6-3, sr., SG; Dustin Hopinkah, 5-10, jr., G; Mekhi Huynh, 6-0, sr., PG; Kayembe Lukussa, 6-4, sr., FW; Jake Romero, 6-1, sr., FW.
Outlook: Medina is not just a four-year starter — only the second one Schroer has had in his nearly two decades with the Mustangs — but one of 5A’s great scoring threats. The good news is, West Mesa has got better pieces, and better depth, this season. Huynh, a transfer from Sandia, should be solid at the point, while Lukussa ought to be a reliable defender and rebounder. West Mesa hoping to get into the playoff picture this season.