It was as close to normalcy as New Mexico has experienced in several years.
The 2021-22 high school sports calendar proceeded with COVID-19 still a passenger in the vehicle, if not driving the bus anymore, but the past nine months still yielded a huge number of memorable highlights.
Away we go:
29-0 TIMES TWO: There was probably no achievement more impressive than Volcano Vista’s boys and girls winning dueling state basketball championships, and each finishing undefeated in the process. Their twin 29-0 records marked the first time any large school had gone unbeaten in both genders in the same season.
The girls beat Hobbs in the final; the boys needed overtime to take down No. 1 seed Las Cruces. That dramatic OT win extended a remarkable run as District 1-5A won its sixth championship in seven seasons.
And Hawks girls coach Lisa Villareal won a fifth title, more than any woman in that sport in state history.
Kirtland Central’s girls captured their 20th championship, extending the program’s own state record. Menaul’s boys, a hodgepodge of international talent, hoisted a blue trophy for the first time.
Highland, for the first time in half a century, was a boys basketball state champ, defeating defending champion Del Norte in the title game. Highland’s center, 6-foot-9 Jose Murillo, authored one of the great championship- game performances ever seen, with 40 points and 20 rebounds.
GRIDIRON: Football didn’t crown any state champions in the fall of 2020, but title games returned last fall.
Cleveland completed a 13-0 season with a 35-14 victory over rival Rio Rancho in the Class 6A final. Josh Perry, who missed the second half of the regular season and most of the playoffs with a broken collarbone, returned to rush for 166 yards and four touchdowns to lead Cleveland in front of about 7,000 fans.
That also proved to be the final game for Storm head coach Heath Ridenour, who in the first week of 2022 resigned to join the coaching staff at the University of New Mexico. He was the Storm’s coach for 10 seasons, compiling a 96-18 record, with three titles. Less than 24 hours later, Cleveland named Ridenour’s successor: Robert Garza, previously special teams coordinator and inside linebackers coach.
It also was the final game for Rio Rancho coach Gerry Pannoni, who in late April announced he was moving back to Virginia. Offensive coordinator Nate Pino was promoted from within.
Los Lunas won its first football championship, 40-28 over Artesia in the 5A state final. The Tigers, like Cleveland, finished 13-0. Lovington (4A), Robertson (3A), Eunice (2A), Tatum (8-Man) and Gateway Christian (6-Man) were also state champions.
But the Gateway Christian victory over Ramah left the team, and the school, and the city of Roswell, with heavy hearts. At halftime of that game, offensive coordinator Micky Reeves – one of New Mexico’s truly spectacular athletes of the last 50 years – died of an apparent massive heart attack in the locker room.
Reeves, 51, was a marvel as a multi-sport athlete at Roswell High. He later went to Arizona State to play football and was drafted by the Chicago Cubs.
INTERLOPER: COVID-19, now largely in our rear-view mirror, nevertheless remained a prominent player. Teams missed games, and athletes got the coronavirus and were forced into quarantine.
And COVID did impact the way some postseasons unfolded. State soccer conducted quarterfinals and semifinals on campus sites, which was a new wrinkle. Basketball played its quarters at the higher seed, leaving the Pit with two fewer days of activity in March than usual.
The human toll was sometimes worse.
Leonard Torrez, the girls basketball coach at Mesa Vista, was only 37 when his life was claimed by COVID. He and his father, Leo, also a coach for the Trojans, died on consecutive days. Former state champion softball pitcher Missy Martinez from Cibola died at 30 from COVID-19 several months ago.
But COVID was not the only instrument of grief. Magdalena girls basketball coach Marleen Greenwood, 49, lost her life in early December in a multi-vehicle accident. Longtime boys basketball coach (at several schools) Tom Drangmeister died earlier this year at 82.
CHANGE AFOOT AT APS: Adrian Ortega carved out an excellent career as a boys basketball coach, and he led Atrisco Heritage to back-to-back state championships in 2018 and 2019.
But early in this last season, Ortega resigned to become the new district athletic director at Albuquerque Public Schools. He replaced Kenny Barreras, who stepped away after 17 years at that position.
Among Ortega’s early initiatives is to allow eighth-graders in APS to play high school sports, starting next fall.
Ortega was the only varsity boys basketball coach in Atrisco Heritage’s history before leaving for APS.
Meanwhile, the Jaguars and new coach Steve Heredia enjoyed a terrific season and reached the 5A semifinals.
MAKING THE ROUNDS: Hardly any school outside of the largest classification had a more robust school year than Robertson. Led by one of New Mexico’s premier athletes, Matthew Gonzales, the Cardinals won state in football and boys basketball. Robertson added titles in volleyball, girls basketball and softball.
Los Alamos also had a magnificent 2021-22, with sweeps in cross country and track and field, plus a victory at boys swimming/diving.
In cross country, for the second straight season, Hope Christian’s Rendon Kuykendall established himself as New Mexico’s elite runner. He easily won the Class 4A meet in November, with the best time in any classification. He was rated as one of the top juniors in the country.
Gonzales and Kuykendall had company in star power. Jal’s Roger Carreon signed to play football at Boise State. Carlsbad pitcher Nolan Perry, a Texas Tech signee, has garnered copious attention from Major League Baseball scouts ahead of this July’s amateur draft.
ON THE PITCH: Santa Fe High won the boys Class 5A state soccer championship in one of the most giddily entertaining prep games of 2021-22, outscoring Sandia 4-3 in overtime at the UNM Soccer Complex.
Junior forward Alex Waggoner put together arguably the best single-game postseason performance of any athlete in any classification. He tallied all four Santa Fe goals in the state final and finished the season with a whopping 73 goals.
Santa Fe was the outlier; the other five winners in soccer were Albuquerque schools – Albuquerque Academy’s boys, who repeated in 4A, plus Sandia Prep (both genders in Class 1A-3A), Cibola’s girls in 5A and Hope Christian’s girls in 4A.
ON THE LINKS: If it wasn’t Highland’s Murillo at the Pit, or Waggoner at UNM, the best single-day postseason performance was Cibola golfer Aiden Krafft, who shot a 12-under par 60 at Twin Warriors Golf Club to run away with the Class 5A title by 13 shots. His 60 is believed to be the lowest single round ever carded by a New Mexico prep golfer, at any event.
Albuquerque Academy – a few days after sweeping the boys and girls state tennis team titles – finished first in both genders on the golf course, as well.
THIS AND THAT: Albuquerque Academy’s boys tennis program won state for the 19th consecutive full season, continuing its status as New Mexico’s best dynasty. … Volcano Vista’s boys and girls also won state in cross country. … Six was a prominent number in the spring; Cleveland’s boys won their sixth straight track and field title. Eldorado’s boys (singles) and La Cueva’s boys (doubles) won those divisions at state tennis for the sixth consecutive time. … La Cueva won 5A boys and girls state tennis. … One of the candidates for top regular-season game was the Cleveland-Rio Rancho pairing on Oct. 29. The Storm, down 20 in the first half, rallied for a thrilling 28-27 victory and the District 1-6A championship. … Albuquerque Academy brought in temporary lights and played its first home night football game, Oct. 3 against Bernalillo, a game the Chargers won 14-7. … Farmington’s boys (5A) and Miyamura’s girls repeated as state team wrestling champions. … It was a year of milestones for baseball coaches. Rio Rancho’s Ron Murphy reached career win No. 600, Rio Grande’s Orlando Griego reached 400 and West Mesa’s Marc Hilton earned his 300th. … The school formerly known as Oñate officially changed to Organ Mountain. … New NMAA member school Chesterton Academy of Albuquerque had its first state champion: Cecilia Campos, a sophomore who broke a Class 1A state record in the 800-meter final at the state meet.