Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
Yes, we’re three days into the new year and, now, perhaps more than ever, hope springs eternal. Never have so many been so glad to see the calendar flip digits.
Nevertheless, a quick peek backwards, if for no other reason than perspective, will reveal that 2020 still had many defining sports moments. True, COVID-19 robbed almost all athletes of the opportunity to take to their chosen fields and courts and diamonds of play after March, and was – and remains – the biggest story of all. But we would be remiss without the annual top 10 list, presented here in descending order.
10 Pecos boys basketball coach Ira Harge Jr. leaves program. Harge was the architect of the Panthers’ dominance, with the program winning four straight state championships. The team had not won a state championship since 1966, despite reaching the finals four times over the ensuing years before Harge came along. He turned in his whistle in April to become athletic director at the much-maligned program at Española Valley, which has been fraught with controversy for years.
9 Santa Fe High student wins national high school rodeo event. Luiz Mendiaz teamed up with Quincy Sullivan of Los Lunas in August to win the National High School Rodeo team roping event. For Mendiaz, it was his first appearance at the nationals. And he made it with an alternative partner as his normal teammate was unavailable. Mendiaz and Sullivan earned the top prize in a field that included the top four-ranked duos from every state.
8 Nearly $130,000 later, Robertson volleyball coach finally is fired. The termination of former Robertson volleyball coach Stacy Fulgenzi, whose team won a state championship in 2019 with her in the stands, finally became official in September. It cost the school district nearly $130,000 in legal fees to finally oust the coach, who said she was wrongfully terminated because of the way she handled a fundraising event for a district teacher with cancer.
7 Los Alamos, St. Mikes’ boys, Santa Fe Prep girls win swim titles. Unheralded entering the state meet in February, the Hilltoppers’ Orion Henderson won the 500-yard freestyle, took second in the 200 free, and anchored the runner-up 200 and 400 freestyle relay squads. Sophia Gossum won silver in the sprint freestyle events to take the Blue Griffins to a second straight small-schools title. And Ethan Manske was third in the 500 free to lead the Horsemen to their first championship.
6 Pecos wins fourth straight boys state hoops championship. The stands at the Pit in March may have been empty and quiet, and the opponent – Magdalena – may have been undefeated, but nothing was going to keep the Panthers from winning a fourth straight title, joining Hobbs as the only public school to do so. Pecos recovered from a one-point halftime deficit as Ismael Villegas scored 16 points and Anthony Armijo added 15 in the 63-53 win.
5 Angel Fire Resort shovel races kaput. After 41 years and countless chills, thrills and spills, the shovel races were shelved following last season’s run in February. The races used to draw competitors from across the country, and even the world. At one point, daring riders added motors for extra speed and a fledgling sports broadcasting station called ESPN even broadcast it. But when the motors came off for safety reasons, the thrill was gone.
4 Ex-Lobos hoops star Giddens to coach NNMC women. Former New Mexico star and NBA player J.R. Giddens stepped into the coaching ranks in August, agreeing to coach the women for Northern New Mexico College in Española. Giddens brings not only a wealth of basketball experience to the NAIA school, but also big-name recognition. While his first season at the school was axed because of the virus, he had already begun working with his players in small groups.
3 Capital hoops reaches championship game, star Sanchez sets school scoring record. T.J. Sanchez averaged 20 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 3.3 steals per game in leading Capital into the 5A title game in March, where the Jaguars lost 63-53 to Las Cruces. Sanchez, bound for New Mexico Highlands University, scored 15 points in that game, but was a disappointing 0-for-4 on 3-pointers. He finished his standout career with more than 1,600 points, breaking a school record by more than 100 points.
2 Los Alamos grad Ealey comes home to win national championship. Chase Ealey loves her home cooking, and the Los Alamos alumna parlayed that into her first gold medal at the 2020 USA Track & Field Indoor Track and Field Championships in February in Albuquerque. Ealey, who had expected to qualify for the Olympics during the summer, threw a personal indoor best 62 feet, 3¾ inches to easily surpass the high-caliber field.
1 “J.B.” White killed at party. Santa Fe High’s Fedonta “J.B.” White was the local boy made good who was going to swoop into the Pit and lead the Lobos to the promised land of the Sweet 16 or better. White, who had finished up his senior season over the summer, was shot and killed at an early-morning party in August. A smooth, workaholic gym rat, White could do it all with aplomb on the basketball court. Recruited nationally, White had the talent and flair that could have put a program on his back. And he had the winning, winsome personality that would have appealed to the Pit denizens.
A couple of notable stories that didn’t make the cut: Robertson’s Andrew Trujillo won his fourth straight individual wrestling championship in February. He is one of seven Cardinals to have won at least four titles. … The Peñasco girls basketball team’s bid for a first-ever state championship game came up short in March, despite reaching the final for the second time in three seasons. The Panthers fell to Mescalero Apache 69-54 in the title game.