Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
Although the entire prep sports season was condensed into one lightning round of five months, it shall always remain a year to remember, no asterisks necessary. For all of those athletes and coaches who got it done, a giant tip of the fedora. Well played. You all deserve every accolade and pat on the back you receive. Although the season was markedly different and compressed, there were still those who stood out from the rest and this is Journal North’s annual rundown of the best of the best in each sport.
Wakei Hettinga, Los Alamos: Hettinga finally burst from the long shadow cast by teammate Rafael Sanchez, surging to the end of the Class 4A championships in 16 minutes, 10.56 seconds to finish fifth overall and help the Hilltoppers earn the runner-up spot on the podium in the NMAA’s first pre-pandemic championship.
Norissa Valdez, Los Alamos: Valdez is used to this particular honor, having earned it last season after winning the individual state championship. She repeated that feat in a time of 19:16.44 and again led the Hilltoppers to second straight team championships, the program’s 22nd overall.
Luke Padilla, Capital: Perhaps no sport was quite as affected as the gridiron, with most schools playing fewer than five games, which could hardly be called a season. Nevertheless, running back Padilla was again a standout, helping the Jaguars to a 2-2 record before heading off to Fort Lewis College, where he hopes for the same success.
Alex Waggoner, Taos: Waggoner piled up eight goals in six regular-season games, leading the Tigers to a 6-0 record and No. 2 seed in the 4A state tournament. Although Taos lost 2-1 in the tournament’s opening round, a rematch with Los Alamos, Waggoner tallied the team’s only goal. He also added five assists on the season.
Rachel Morgan, St. Michael’s: All Morgan did was lead the Horsemen to the 3A state championship, their first since 2009, scoring two goals, with an assist, in the 4-1 win over Socorro in the final. For the season, she was the consummate playmaker, adding 10 assists to her 10 goals, including a pair of helpers against four-time defending champ Sandia Prep in the semifinals.
Laila Bernardino, Santa Fe: Bernardino was instrumental in helping the Demonettes reach the championship match for the first time since winning it in 1990. Displaying an all-around game, she topped the team in kills, at 160, a kill percentage at 58.4, had a team-best 26 aces, was third best with 50 block assists, and second best with 84 digs.
Garrett May, Española Valley: It was admittedly a down season for boys basketball in the north as no team reached the championship game and only three across all classes got to the semifinals. As the 4A No. 4 seed, the Sundevils were led by May, who averaged 10 points a game, and came up with crucial points and plays as they took top seed Del Norte to overtime in the semifinals.
Trinity Herrera, Pecos: With nods to local runners-up Española Valley and Robertson in 4A and 3A, it was the Panthers who brought home the blue trophy, thanks to Herrera’s stellar play. On the season, she averaged 17 points, with 3.8 assists, 5.3 rebounds, 7.3 steals and 1.5 blocks. She topped that in the 61-55 championship game win against Lordsburg, with 25 points, 10 steals and three blocked shots.
Makayla Etzel, Taos: It only seems like the Tigers win the cheer competition every year. When Taos grabbed the blue this season, it marked their sixth championship in seven competitions. The 2020 state tournament was virus-erased. And Etzel is the Taos captain, urging her team back to the top of the medal stand.
Orion Henderson, Los Alamos: In leading the Hilltoppers to a second straight state championship Orion Henderson earned gold in the grueling 500-yard freestyle and the 200 individual medley, while helping the 4×50 and 4×100 free relays each take second.
Sophia Gossum, Santa Fe Prep: A year ago, Gossum was runner-up in both sprint events in leading the Blue Griffins to their first small-schools championships. Santa Fe Prep made it back-to-back and Gossum added another runner-up in the 50 free in a time of 24.96 seconds and a fourth in the 100 free in 54.55 seconds.
Damian Martinez and Teke Nieto, Los Alamos: These two led the Hilltoppers to a second-place tie with Silver in 4A with 186 points, 38 points behind winner Aztec. Los Alamos has never won a state championship. At 160 pounds, Martinez pinned Highland’s Joel Salazar in one minute, 45 seconds; at 195, Nieto pinned Abraham Lopez of Highland at 2:41.
Aspen DeHerrera, Los Alamos: DeHerrera, wrestling at 132 pounds, was the only local wrestler to win a match. She took out Cleveland’s Jianna Coon in a fall at the 1:16 mark before losing to eventual winner Yele Aycock of Miyamura in a fall at 1:58 and Mayfield’s Cassidy Sanchez in a fall in 32 seconds.
Isiah Ortiz, Robertson: Ortiz smacked the ball around the lot to the tune of .392, with six doubles, 17 runs and 14 RBIs in 20 games while stealing eight bases in nine attempts to help the sixth-seeded Cardinals reach the 3A championship game. He also pitched effectively, compiling a 0.85 earned-run average with 20 strikeouts with six walks.
Connor Cook, Los Alamos: Cook shot a five-over-par 77 in his round at Ladera Golf Course, which was good enough to tie for 11th, nine strokes behind winner Grady Cox of Belen. He helped the Hilltoppers shot a 327 overall to finish fifth, 30 strokes off winner Albuquerque Academy’s pace.
Jessica Osden, Los Alamos: A former individual champion, Osden’s one-under 71 at Ladera left her in a tie for fourth place with Jadin Ware of Goddard, two strokes behind winner Anya Parasher of Albuquerque Academy. The Hilltoppers finished in a fourth-place tie with Belen at 355, 43 strokes behind the winning Chargers.
Chrislen Archuleta, West Las Vegas: Archuleta was a dynamic force in helping the Dons reach the 3A state championship game for first time since 2013. She hit .500 with three home runs, nine triples and eight doubles among her 42 hits in 22 games.
Wade McDermott and Evan Bloodworth, St. Michael’s: The Horsemen’s second-seeded duo had few issues rolling through the first two rounds of the individual state tournament, taking each match 6-0, 6-1 before running into Albuquerque Academy brothers Conner and Taylor Dils, whose dad used to be the men’s tennis coach at the University of New Mexico. In a tough match, the Chargers won 6-4, 7-5.
Isabel Voinescu, Santa Fe Prep: The top seed, Voinescu steadily made her way through the singles draw before running into Kate McDonald of Los Alamos. While Voinescu won the first set 6-1, the second set was a nail-biting tie-breaker that she won 7-5, becoming the school’s first girls champ and the first girls champ from Santa Fe since the Demonettes Adrienne Mecham in 1975.
Rafael Sanchez, Los Alamos: The cross-country kid proved he’s no slouch on the track, either, pulling off one of the more remarkable running feats by sweeping the distance races of 800, 1,600 and 3,200 meters in times of 1:59.43, 4:40.56 and 9:33.54. Usually, the meet is over two days and the races are split up, but he won them all within about five hours of each other.
Bailey Yost, Los Alamos: Yost got quite familiar with the top steps of the podium, helping the Hilltoppers lap the 4A field, and then some. She won the high jump at 5 feet, 2 inches and helped the 4×400 relay squad win in a time of 4:07.74. She was second in both hurdles, going 15.61 seconds in the 100 and 45.49 in the 300, and finished up with a third in the 200 in a time of 26.71.