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Looking Back at the Prep Season

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It’s never a simple task, to try to bottle the ends of a nine-month-long high school year. And 2010-11 will be particularly difficult to summarize.

It was a year in which the south partied, and not just on the gridiron. We saw the farewell performance from Ronnie Daniels. We saw the first state spirit competition as a sport.

The 2010-11 year brought us the end of long droughts, and also one wicked batch of winter weather that stopped the state, well, cold.

As always, it offered up endless tales of individual achievement and scores of Kodak moments.

On the field

Mayfield, Artesia (No. 27 for the Bulldogs) and Lovington swept the championship games in 5A, 4A and 3A. It was part of a southern surge.

At state basketball, Oñate’s boys and Mayfield’s girls earned blue trophies. The Knights beat Manzano 54-48 for the school’s first title. In the second half, Oñate shot 85 percent from the field. In the fourth quarter, 100 percent — with no turnovers. Remarkable poise.

The Trojans downed Cibola 51-42, a great win for coach George Maya and his ailing 82-year-old father, George — who died three days later.

The Gadsden volleyball team beat Cleveland in four games for the 5A title. The last state title for the Panthers, in any sport, was 1983.

Even the underdog Mayfield wrestlers almost got in on the fun, taking Rio Rancho to the penultimate match before the Rams pulled out their fifth straight 5A title.

EIGHT WAS ENOUGH: La Cueva tailback Ronnie Daniels broke at least eight state records during the 2010 season, including the career rushing mark and the single-season rushing mark (2,841 yards). He scored 42 touchdowns this year in 12 games.

Daniels graduated early, and is just completing his first semester at Texas Tech.

SERIOUSLY? There were so many insanely good single-game football performances, it’s hard to know where to begin.

Mayfield, for example, had 731 yards of total offense in its 69-42 championship-game rout of Manzano. Against La Cueva, Manzano ran 94 offensive plays and had 33 first downs. Daniels lugged the football 52 times(!) in that now infamous state semifinal loss to Mayfield.

In two separate games (Manzano-La Cueva and Manzano-Mayfield), I watched teams combine for 111 points. I just feel plain sorry for defensive coordinators these days. (As an aside, why was Mayfield — who won state impressively as a No. 6 seed — throwing the ball at the end of that game? The Trojans were awesome, but that was poor form.)

GAME OF THE YEAR: For me, it’s Manzano’s 56-55 victory over La Cueva for the District 2-5A championship.

In a season in which going for 2-point conversions seemed almost an afterthought, the Monarchs successfully did so with 19.9 seconds left, capping a nearly eight-minute drive to win the game. Amazing stuff.

OVER, OR ON PAUSE? Bill Clinton was in the oval office the last time Rio Rancho failed to reach a Class 5A state volleyball championship match. The Rams last season fell to Gadsden in the semifinals.

DYNASTIES CONTINUED: In addition to Rio Rancho’s wrestlers, the nationally-recognized Albuquerque Academy boys cross-country runners won state for the sixth time in seven seasons. La Cueva’s boys tennis team won state for the 10th time in 11 years. The Bears’ baseball team now has seven blue trophies since 2003.

RAH RAH RAH: The state spirit competition was held in March for the first time as a sanctioned sport.

BROTHERLY LOVE: Neil Longenbaugh of Academy won the 4A individual cross-country title, about a year after he donated bone marrow to help save the life of his brother, Nick. Talk about a kid who deserved some good karma.

ONE AND TWO: In its first 5A year, Volcano Vista won two championships, in girls soccer and softball.

Off the field

Allegations that several football players from La Cueva were drinking on a bus ride home from Las Cruces on Thanksgiving weekend eventually cost Fred Romero his job as the Bears head coach. And assistant Mike Tixier lost his coaching job as well.

La Cueva in March hired Ed Lucero, a former Del Norte head coach, to replace Romero who was not the only APS football coach who lost his job in 2010. So did Rio Grande’s Randy Gutierrez, who was put on leave in mid-October and never got his coaching job back. Jim Danner, a former Cibola and La Cueva assistant, replaced him.

Highland (Derek Maestas) and Albuquerque High (Mike Zufall) got new coaches, too, after the resignations of Gary Sanchez and Joe Anaya.

DOUBLE TROUBLE: The New Mexico Activities Association on March 1 doubled the length of time transfers must sit out, from 90 days to 180 days — or, the equivalent of a school year. That applies to athletes who change schools without a legitimate residence change.

YOU CAN’T PLEASE EVERYONE: Girls basketball is so popular in some towns that it’s creating a headache at the state tournament. This year, the girls from Santa Fe Indian, Kirtland Central, Gallup, Navajo Pine and Shiprock all got to the finals, and those schools combined to fill up the Pit on the same night.

It made for a terrific atmosphere, but there was a downside: a couple of thousand fans (that’s an estimate) never got in to see their teams play.

SO THIS IS WHAT WINTER LOOKS LIKE: A powerful cold front gripped New Mexico for the better part of the first week in February, and most every school district had no athletic activity during the deep freeze. Me, I love winter. Those were the four happiest days of my 2011. So far.

IN MEMORIAM: Former Gallup girls basketball coach John Lomasney was taken April 22 by cancer. He was 63. … Del Norte junior football player Greyson Newman died of an apparent accidental overdose on Jan. 2. He was 17. … Robertson cross-country coach Fabian Trujillo, 50, died on Feb. 10, from injuries sustained in a car accident. … Oñate football player Jerry Zamarippa died Feb. 26. The 18-year-old was severely beaten at a house party.

NATIONAL RECOGNITION: Cliff boys basketball coach Pete Shock this July will be inducted into the National Federation of State High School Associations Hall of Fame. Shock will be the seventh to go in from New Mexico.

Also, Lomasney will be inducted posthumously this summer into the National High School Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

FIRST OF A KIND: In December, Albuquerque Academy junior shortstop Alex Bregman became the first high school player ever to win the USA Baseball Richard W. “Dick” Case Player of the Year Award.

MILESTONES: Clovis football coach Eric Roanhaus reached 300 career wins. Manzano volleyball coach Carol Barnitz (400), Hope Christian boys basketball coach Jim Murphy (600) and La Cueva boys hoops coach Frank Castillo (600) also hit big numbers.

GIDDY UP: The South Valley’s Cody Hendren and Da’Lynn Cline of Bernalillo in August competed at the National High School Finals Rodeo in Gillette, Wyo. Yes, rodeo is not a sanctioned sport, but it’s worth a paragraph.

IF ON YOUR FIRST FIVE TRIES YOU DON’T SUCCEED … : During the football season, I was privy to many firsts in my career. This was another: October’s Rio Grande-Atrisco Heritage game was the first time I ever saw five penalties called during one PAT attempt. Excruciating.

This and that

♦ Robertson wrestler Daniel Martinez in February won his fifth individual state title, just the third member of that exclusive club.

♦ Española Valley won its first boys basketball championship, beating Goddard 55-52 in the 4A final before 15,000 fans. Point guard Rodney Coles had one of the year’s unforgettable performances, scoring the final 14 points for the Sundevils in the final.

♦ The Hagerman boys won their first boys basketball title since 1924, closing out an undefeated season with a victory over another unbeaten, Cliff, in the 1A championship game.

♦ Sandia Prep’s baseball team scored 34 runs in a single game against Santa Fe Indian, and Eldorado’s Josh Day hit four straight home runs in a game against Rio Grande.

♦ Cleveland’s P.J. Horgan authored the basketball shot of the year, a 40-foot jumper at the buzzer to knock off La Cueva.

♦ Hobbs boys basketball coach Russ Gilmore resigned earlier this week; he led the Eagles to five state titles.

♦ Hope Christian’s football team qualified for the Class 3A playoffs in just its second season.

♦ Undefeated local athletes in 5A included Cleveland wrestler Paul Mascareñas and La Cueva girls tennis player Anna Kuuttila.

♦ West Mesa sophomore DeShun Brown won the 112-pound Sophomore division at the National High School Coaches Association wrestling championships in Virginia Beach, Va.

♦ Sandia’s Victoria Barba was named to the 2010 National Soccer Coaches Association of America/adidas All-American team.

♦ The boys and girls basketball teams from La Cueva and Cibola in November became the first prep squads to play a game in the renovated Pit.

♦ Atrisco Heritage Academy joined the varsity ranks.

♦ La Cueva won six spring state titles, including sweeps in golf and track and field. The Bears won a 5A-leading seven championships in 2010-11.

Parting words

I wish I had the room to list all the wonderful athletes I get to cover in this job. Here are some of the notable ones who are moving on to Division I programs:

Cleveland’s P.J. Horgan (The Citadel, basketball); Manzano’s Mike Holyfield (Sam Houston State, basketball); Eldorado’s Tyler McCulloch (Colorado, football); Del Norte’s Jamie Fletcher (Kansas, women’s soccer); St. Pius’ Nathanael Pacheco (Gonzaga, men’s soccer); Albuquerque Academy’s Julia Foster (Stanford, cross-country); Cibola’s Amber Battle (Texas Tech, women’s basketball); Albuquerque High’s Beth Wright (Syracuse, track); Raton’s Dustin Walton (UNM, football); Matt Jaramillo (New Mexico State, football).

To all the seniors, I wish you the very best.

Have a great summer, friends.

— This article appeared on page B1 of the Albuquerque Journal
Cutline – Oñate’s Tim Jacobs jumps into the arms of teammate Rich Puentes (24) after the Knights won the 5A basketball title. Photo Credit – Jim Thompson/Journal