What an anniversary year.
Despite COVID’s best efforts, which did slice the number of state qualifying teams in half, and the number of postseason games by more than half, the 67-games-in-six-days, 2021 high school state basketball tournament — on its 100th anniversary — forged ahead, with terrific basketball and some incredibly poignant stories.
Forthwith, time to put a bow on the week.
ALL HAIL THE CHAMPS: Among the 10 classification winners were a pair of first-timers — the boys from Del Norte (Class 4A), and the 5A boys from Cleveland. Well, maybe it’s 2½ first-timers, since Roy’s girls had won state before, but not Mosquero. That co-op led to a championship last week, but they have to share a trophy.
Navajo Prep’s girls repeated, Gallup’s girls were back on top for the first time in a decade, Hot Springs’ boys and Pecos’ girls both won for the second time in three years.
Seven of the 10 No. 1 seeds won state. The Hot Springs boys were a 2, the Gallup girls were a 4 and authored, by seed, the biggest upset in any final. Rehoboth Christian’s boys ended a 44-year drought. Magdalena’s boys were back with a flourish. (The 10th team? Read ahead.) We finished with six undefeated state champions. Kudos to one and all.
As a quick footnote, the victory by Cleveland’s boys Saturday night marked the fifth time in six seasons that a school from District 1-5A claimed the 5A title, following Rio Rancho (2016), Volcano Vista (2017) and Atrisco Heritage (2018, 2019). The Storm had been knocking on this proverbial door for years, and finally walked through.
THE TENTH: And then, of course, there was the 10th championship team, the girls from Volcano Vista and their almost certain future Hall of Fame coach, Lisa Villareal, who has steered the Hawks to four championships in the last nine years.
By late Saturday night, the video of Natalia Chavez’s half-court buzzer-beater against Hobbs — which lifted the second-seeded Hawks to an exhilarating 52-49 victory in the Class 5A final — already was national news as it appeared on ESPN.com’s home page.
It was — is — a shot for the ages. And there is an accompanying story today on Chavez, following up with her a day after that electrifying 3-pointer.
The pressing question is, how do we go about ranking a shot like this?
Recency bias is a real and frequently ridiculously overused narrative, but in this instance, there is merit to placing this shot at the top of any list.
Consider the entire equation. A shot from mid-court. A shot that barely escapes her hand before the horn sounds. A banked-in 3 that wins the state championship. In overtime.
When her teammate, Jaelyn Bates, said after the game, that it “felt like a movie,” she had the moment precisely pinned.
Greatest shot in the 100-year history of this event?
Well, let’s just say, if there is a shot with more significance or importance than Chavez’s game-winner, I would encourage readers to come forward with your nomination.
SHINING KNIGHTS: Del Norte’s triumph Saturday against Artesia in the boys 4A final is perhaps the most significant team state championship won by the school since the Del Norte baseball team in 1982.
More than that, this might have been the second-most important blue trophy ever won by any sports program at Del Norte, with the Knights’ undefeated big-school football championship in 1974 deservedly unchallenged.
Knights coach Jeron McIntosh knew he had something brewing when he saw a special group of eighth graders — including Shane Douma-Sanchez, Del Norte’s leading scorer — in middle school. Several 10th graders were hugely influential for Del Norte this spring.
“We go and watch one middle school game every year,” McIntosh said. “That’s when we knew.”
Five of the Knights sophomores attended Cleveland Middle School, where they lost a city championship game a few months before enrolling at Del Norte.
“I swear,” Douma-Sanchez said, “right after we lost that city championship in eighth grade, we were, like, we never want to have this feeling again.”
Del Norte was involved in one of the other OT games last week, as the Knights overcame an 11-point deficit in the second half in the semifinals against Española Valley.
A HIGHER PURPOSE, TIMES THREE: The Lordsburg girls and Rehoboth Christian boys — and the Volcano Vista girls — all had far more on their minds and in their hearts than just basketball during the playoffs.
The Mavericks had special T-shirts made to commemorate one of the town’s own, Darian Jarrott, a New Mexico State Police Officer who was killed in the line of duty in February.
His niece, Alicia, was a freshman basketball player at Lordsburg this season.
“We decided at the very beginning of the season, after it happened, we got shirts dedicated to him, and we dedicated the season to him,” Lordsburg coach Rodney Plowman said. He once coached Darian Jarrott in football.
Alicia Jarrott struggled emotionally throughout the season, Plowman said, in the wake of her uncle’s killing. But the tight-knit Lordsburg community rallied around her, and her family.
“It wasn’t good,” he said. “She has good days and bad days. We all took care of her.”
Rehoboth Christian’s boys title, coach Kevin Zwiers said, was as much for the community, ravaged by COVID, as it was for anyone. Rehoboth is located just east of Gallup in McKinley County. This victory was a welcome tonic during a relentless pandemic.
“Our side of the state, our area has suffered so much in the past year,” Zwiers said. “The joy that we can bring to people is just unbelievable. It lights up people’s eyes.”
The Volcano Vista girls wore purple T-shirts last week, honoring beloved Hall of Fame coach Mike Brown, who has been hospitalized for about six months, and fighting for his life with a variety of medical issues. The most dire challenge facing him is MSA, or Multiple System Atrophy, a rare neurodegenerative disorder.
Brown’s granddaughter, Kennedy, is a junior guard for the Hawks. Kennedy’s father, Greg, coaches the Volcano Vista boys, and her uncle, Danny, coaches the Sandia boys. On the back of the purple T-shirts — a surprise gift from Hawks guard Jaelyn Bates, Kennedy Brown said — were the words, “PAPA BROWN.”
And after the game, Kennedy said, the team couldn’t wait to share in their celebrate with her grandfather.
“I called him right after,” she said. “He had the purple shirt laying on him. He was unable to talk, but I got to tell him about everything that happened and made sure to tell him that everything we did was for him.”
In a touching gesture, all the other Volcano Vista players got on the phone to talk to Mike Brown as well.
“This one was for you Papa,” they said into the phone, one after another. “We love you so much.”