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Trujillo coaches Hatch Valley with heavy heart

Coach Ben Trujillo stands behind his Hatch Valley girls’ basketball team. Trujillo’s wife, Karen, the Las Cruces Public Schools superintendent, passed away on Feb. 25. (Courtesy of Hatch Valley High School)

LAS CRUCES — Ben Trujillo looks at the upcoming high school girls basketball season as a blessing.

The Hatch Valley athletic director and girls basketball head coach usually has a lot on his plate when his work and coaching duties overlap, but he’s glad to have the distraction this time around.

Trujillo and his family suffered a tragic loss on Feb. 25 when Karen Trujillo, the Las Cruces Public Schools superintendent and wife of Ben Trujillo, was killed after being struck by a vehicle while walking her dogs at night.

It’s a loss that the whole city of Las Cruces is still reeling from, but the 37-year coach still insists on leading the Bears this season as they begin their campaign on Monday with a home game against Chaparral at 7 p.m.

“(Coaching) was the plan before it all happened, so I never contemplated not doing it,” Ben Trujillo said. “It’s gotten crazy busy with sports starting and everything, and I truly see that as a blessing because it’s the quiet times that are really, really hard.”

Hatch Valley went 23-7 (5-1 District 3-3A) last season en route to a second straight district title, and it’ll be without a few key contributors this time around.

Atop that list is Ben’s daughter, Tavyn, who graduated this past summer. The star guard recorded 1,500 career points and 750 career assists during her time at Hatch Valley, and she earned a 3A All-State First Team selection in her senior year.

With Tavyn no longer in the mix, this year’s squad will be led by committee.

“I don’t think people can look at us and say ‘We have to stop that kid,'” Ben Trujillo said. “I don’t even know who’s going to be our leading scorer, but I like the makeup of our team and the potential that we have.”

Fortunately for the Bears, they return a number of veterans, including seven seniors.

One key returner is Makenzie Williams. The junior point guard is the team’s floor general, and she has earned the nickname “Honey Badger” due to her tenacity on both ends of the floor.

Williams is joined in the backcourt by Natalie Molinar, a 5-foot-6 shooting guard who has been on the team since her freshman year.

Hatch Valley also has a senior duo in the frontcourt. Shanikua Alaniz is a 5-foot-8 power forward who boasts plenty of athleticism, while 5-foot-9 Yvette Rodriguez anchors the paint.

“Those are the players who I expect to do a lot of things for us,” Ben Trujillo said. “If someone is looking at box scores, those are the names that you’re going to see.”

Games will be different for Hatch Valley without Karen, who served as the team’s spirited play-by-play announcer.

It’s a position the superintendent made sure to find time for as she supported both her husband and her two daughters, who played in basketball and volleyball as well as other sports.

“I remember being surprised — here was the Las Cruces superintendent, announcing a game in Hatch,” Hatch Valley Public Schools superintendent Michael Chavez said on Feb. 27. “Everyone knew: The mic was hers.”

Expectations are high for a Hatch Valley team that has established itself as a district powerhouse during Ben Trujillo’s eight seasons at the helm, but he doesn’t see it as pressure.

Especially this season, it’s quite the opposite.

“I don’t find coaching stressful,” Ben Trujillo said. “I enjoy it. I think you have an opportunity to impact kids in a positive way… It’s definitely my stress reliever.”