Month by month, a look at sports in New Mexico in 2021 - Albuquerque Journal

Month by month, a look at sports in New Mexico in 2021

University of New Mexico football player Teton Saltes, a Valley High graduate, became the first player in program history to win a major national award for a player. (UNM photo)

JANUARY: Lobos get off to 0-4 start in Mountain West men’s basketball for the first time … former Valley Viking star and Lobo offensive lineman Teton Saltes wins the Wuerffel Award, given to the college player “who best combines exemplary community service with leadership achievement on and off the field” … the UNM swimming & diving team will not compete in 2021 due to COVID … college teams are allowed to practice, but not yet play games, within the state … Lobo men beat San Jose State, 67-51, for their first MWC win of the season. Who knew there would be only one more (Air Force, Feb. 22)?

Paul Weir accepted a buyout from the University of New Mexico of his contract as Lobo men’s basketball coach. He later in the year accepted a position as Eastern New Mexico University athletic director. (Journal File Photo)

FEBRUARY: A big month for COVID. UNM postpones its two-game series with San Diego State because the Lobos don’t have the required seven available scholarship players … “other sports” petition Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for permission to start practicing … the 2020-21 Lobos are not the worst UNM men’s team ever, or so says me. That “honor” goes to the 1957-58 outfit … UNM athletics is facing a budgetary shortfall of $13.8 million, the Journal reports … the Lobo women’s two-game series at CSU is called off after a UNM player tests positive … Lobo men’s assistant Scott Padgett tests positive, is out for two weeks … the UNM women’s games at Wyoming are called off after a UNM player tests positive … Senior Makuach Maluach scores 30 points in his “home” finale, a 79-67 loss to Wyoming at the Air Force Academy … UNM men’s coach Paul Weir will step down at season’s end: “This is a perfect time for a transition in Lobo basketball,” he says … Weir’s buyout: $490,000.

New UNM men’s basketball coach Richard Pitino, right, is greeted by a longtime Lobo fan Vicente Waquie after the March 18 introductory press conference at University Stadium.
(Roberto E. Rosales/ABQ Journal)

MARCH: Giddy-up. Live horse racing to resume in New Mexico in April … Weir, UNM sign non-disparagement clause … APS athletics is considering the possibility of a partial fall schedule … The Albuquerque Isotopes’ opener is delayed until May 6 … The Lobo women play the first game of the season at the Pit, beating Colorado State with no fans in attendance. They sweep the Rams to win the MWC regular-season title … spring prep football (really?) gets under way … the Lobo men lose to Fresno State at the Mountain West tournament in Las Vegas, Nevada: “At last,” a Journal headline reads, “a nightmare of a season is over” … After spending 65 days on the road, the NMSU men lose to Grand Canyon in the WAC tournament final … the UNM women’s cross-country team finishes sixth at 2020 NCAA nationals, delayed by COVID … Richard Pitino is the choice to take the reins of UNM men’s basketball. His deal: six years, $4.975 million.

Dave Barney, seen with some of the trophies he won during his tenure as Albuquerque Academy swim coach, retired after a long and successful career. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

APRIL (FOOL): Jaedyn De La Cerda and Antonia Anderson are done playing for the Lobos. Gotcha! No, they’re not … New Mexico becomes the seventh state to pass an NIL bill … Pitino brings D-I transfers Jaelen House and Jamal Mashburn Jr. into the fold … the UNM women’s soccer team beats SDSU in a MWC “playoff” game to make the 2020 NCAA Tournament. They beat Navy on PKs before bowing out against TCU … Ray Birmingham announces his impending retirement as UNM baseball coach after 14 years, four MWC regular-season titles, three conference tournament titles and five NCAA Tournament appearances … a mystery donor gives NMSU athletics a gift of $500,000 … the Lobo and Aggie women win their respective conference golf titles … Academy swim coach Dave Barney, 89, announces his retirement after 47 years and 41 state titles … Albuquerque native Curtis Beach announces his retirement from track and field after a sterling decathlon/heptathlon career.

New Mexico United fans celebrate in the tailgate lots near Isotopes Park on Saturday evening ahead of the team’s first home match of the season back in May. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

MAY: Playing catch-up. New Mexico United kicks off the season by beating Austin Bold FC 3-1 for its first win at Isotopes Park in 574 days … UNM men’s golf wins its eighth MWC title … The Isotopes take the field against Sugar Land in their first game in 616 days … Natalie Chavez’s half-court buzzer beater gives Volcano Vista a state title, makes No. 2 on ESPN’s May 9 Top Ten list … former Lobo offensive lineman Jared St. Aubyn and wife Megghan gift UNM athletics with $350,000 … Academy’s Barney leaves the scene with his 42nd blue trophy — 21 boys’, 21 girls’. … The Charlotte Hornets pick up Academy grad James Borrego’s option for another year as head coach … UNM athletics gets more than $10 million from federal COVID assistance funds.

Claressa Shields, two-time Olympic boxing gold medalist, came to Albuquerque to pursue a career in mixed martial arts. (David Zalubowski/Associated Press)

JUNE: Normalcy reigns (almost). Rio Rancho baseball coach Ron Murphy wins his 582nd game, becoming the state’s all-time leader … former Lobo Josh Kerr (more about him later) runs the fastest 1,500 meters ever on U.S. soil (3:31.55) … Olympic and pro boxing champion Claressa Shields, training for MMA in Albuquerque at Jackson-Wink, wins her debut in the cage. She would lose her second MMA fight 4½ months later … Tod Brown from North Dakota State to succeed Ray Birmingham as UNM baseball coach … Cloudcroft’s Ajia Hughes wins five events at NM track championships … Phoenix’s Hannah Robbins, daughter of former UNM hoops star Rob, announces she’ll become a second-generation Lobo … Former UNM softball player Rachel Balkovec, a hitting coach in the Yankees’ organization, picked to coach at the All-Star Futures game in Denver.

Volcano Vista’s Jaelyn Bates puts up a layup as she drives past the La Cueva defense during action earlier this season at Volcano Vista High School. Bates scored 18 points in Volcano’s 61-41 win. She is going to the University of New Mexico. (Mike Sandoval for the Journal)

JULY: The quiet month. Volcano Vista basketball star Jaelyn Bates commits to UNM. Her teammate Natalie Chavez later does the same … Carlsbad left-hander and Miami Marlins rookie Trevor Rogers is named to the NL All-Star team. He later finishes second in NL Rookie of the Year voting … Paul Weir is named athletic director at Eastern New Mexico … New Mexico’s entry in The Basketball Tournament blows a big lead and bows out in the first round, loses its shot at a $1 million payday … Cleveland outfielder Daniel Johnson becomes the first former NMSU Aggie to hit a Major League home run.

Bronze medalist Josh Kerr, of Britain and previously of the University of New Mexico, poses on the podium during the medal ceremony for the men’s 1,500-meters at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Saturday, Aug. 7, 2021, in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

AUGUST: NM on the big stage. Former Lobos Courtney Frerichs (silver, 3,000 steeplechase) and Josh Kerr (bronze, 1,500 meters) medal in Tokyo, leading a contingent of 19 New Mexico-connected Olympians … Public comments suggest the initiative for a soccer-specific stadium to house NMU likely is doomed … UNM AD Eddie Nuñez receives the rarely given MWC Commissioner’s Award for his efforts in keeping Lobo athletics alive and afloat during the pandemic … As the delta variant rears its ugly head, Gov. Lujan Grisham’s indoor mask mandate will include athletic events … former Lobo Chris Wehan returns for a second stint with NMU.

UNM football head coach Danny Gonzales, left, pats offensive lineman Kyle Stapley for a heads up play in the season opening-win vs. Houston Baptist. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal.)

SEPTEMBER: Football is back. UNM opens with a 27-17 victory over Houston Baptist in coach Danny Gonzales’ long-delayed home debut … the following week, UNM beats NMSU 34-25. Thereafter, it gets tougher … NMU gets its first win in 54 days, beating Colorado Springs Switchbacks 3-2. … Isotopes reliever Nelson Gonzalez makes his record 133rd appearance in an Albuquerque uniform … Albuquerque MMA star Carlos Condit retires … MMA star Jon Jones arrested on domestic-violence charge in Las Vegas, Nevada … The Isotopes beat Reno in their final home game of 2021. “I would say there has not been a more important season in our history,” said club vice president and GM John Traub.

Erin Wagner breaks the tape to win the Duke City Marathon’s Women’s Division in her debut this fall. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

OCTOBER: Autumn leaves. Roswell product DonTrell Moore, UNM’s all-time rushing leader, to be inducted into the school’s football Ring of Honor … Lobo senior transfer quarterback Terry Wilson suffers what proves to be a season-ending elbow injury in a 31-7 loss to San Diego State, crippling an already struggling offense. … the Duke City Marathon is back after a year’s absence; Santa Fe’s Paul LeFrancois and Albuquerque newcomer Erin Wagner are the winners … Kenny Barreras to step down after 17 years as APS athletic director … New Mexico United’s Devon Sandoval will miss the rest of the season because of blood clots … NMU finishes the season with a win but misses the playoffs … Lobos get their third (and final) football victory of the season, 14-3 at Wyoming.

New Mexico United owner Peter Trevisani, left, and Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller announce to the pregram crowd their intention to put a bond issue for a soccer-specific stadium before city voters. In November, those voters said no. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal.

NOVEMBER: Not so fast, NMU. Voters voice a definitive thumbs down on a soccer stadium … Troy Lesesne stops down as NMU head coach … the Lobos rout New Mexico Highlands in Pitino’s first game as head coach … the U.S. national women’s hockey team comes to town and scrimmages the New Mexico Ice Wolves … NMU assistant coach Zach Prince elevated to the top job … St. Pius X and NMSU grad Tommy Sheppard now president, as well as GM, of the NBA’s Washington Wizards … the UNM women run third at NCAA X-C nationals, have now finished in the top 10 12 years in a row … Jerry Kill named NMSU football coach after Doug Martin’s contract is not renewed … the Lobo basketball men outlast the Aggies and a 50-minute power outage to win, 101-94, at the Pan Am.

MMA Fighter Holly Holm photobombs Giancarlo Esposito during the pregame festivities of the New Mexico United game at Isotopes Park on July 9, 2021 in Albuquerque. (Mike Sandoval for the Albuquerque Journal)

DECEMBER: Omicron, oh, my. The UNM women came back from a 13-point deficit with 8 minutes left to complete a sweep of NMSU … the NMSU men beat the Lobos in OT at the Pit to gain a split … As rumors fly that Eddie Nuñez is a candidate for the Miami AD job, he agrees to an extension at UNM …. Albuquerque’s Holly Holm to be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame … Atrisco Heritage boys basketball coach Adrian Ortega is the new APS AD … Jon Jones agrees to a plea deal in Vegas, domestic violence charge is dropped … the NMMI Broncos rout Iowa Western 31-13 in the NJCAA football title game … Fresno State beats UTEP 31-24 In the PUBC New Mexico Bowl, back where it belongs after the 2020 game was played out of state … UNM announces a vaccination requirement for fans entering the Pit … UNM’s scheduled MWC men’s opener vs. Colorado State postponed by COVID in the CSU program … Triple-A West, in which the Isotopes play, will experiment with robot ball-strike technology in 2022.

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