A married couple and their two kids enter their luxury hotel room for an extended vacation. In the kitchenette, Ms. Couple discovers a bottle of bitters sitting on the counter.
Having no need for bitters, she phones the front desk and asks for someone to come get the bottle. “I’m sorry, ma’am,” the desk clerk replies, “we can’t do that.”
More puzzled than annoyed, the woman asks why not.
“It’s very simple,” the clerk explains. “You have to take the bitters with the suite.”
Yes, we do. So it has been in 2022 New Mexico sports, as in virtually every year before – only perhaps more so this time around.
Consider at November-December, when two of the most exciting, uplifting stories in recent memory – the New Mexico men’s basketball team’s ascent into the national rankings and the New Mexico State football team’s improbable run to a bowl victory – were paralleled by a sordid revenge plot.
The outcome: the death of a UNM student, shot by an NMSU basketball player on the UNM campus, and the ensuing cancellation of two scheduled Lobos-Aggies men’s basketball games.
But wait, one might argue. For the purposes of a look back at New Mexico sports in 2022, why does the bad have to be lumped in with the good? The fatal shooting, after all, didn’t happen on a field or a court or a track. It’s a separate story, right?
No, it is not. Try as we might, wish as we might, there is no separating sports from life.
Here then, without further delay, is that look back. (Note that the preps, so capably and enthusiastically covered elsewhere by my Journal colleague James Yodice, are omitted for these purposes.)
STORY OF THE YEAR: UNM men’s basketball.
A 13-0 record entering Saturday’s game at Wyoming, with the all-time season-opening standard of 17-0 (1967-68) within reach. The first national ranking since 2014. Virtual sellouts at the Pit, decibel levels rising to levels not heard in years. A fun team to watch. Enough electricity to power the entire grid.
Richard Pitino has assembled and created a team without a glaring weakness. If big men Morris Udeze and Josiah Allick can stay healthy, who’s going to stop these guys?
Honorable mention: New Mexico State football, UNM women’s cross country.
Dishonorable mention: The Nov. 19 shooting that killed UNM student Brandon Travis and put NMSU basketball player Mike Peake, who fired the fatal shot, in the hospital with a leg wound – all because of a fight that took place at the Lobos-Aggies football game in Las Cruces on Oct. 15.
And because Peake packed a pistol on a road trip, then sneaked out with some teammates after curfew at their Albuquerque hotel, under the noses of the NMSU coaching staff.
Such a tragedy. Such a waste.
COACH OF THE YEAR: Jerry Kill.
What Pitino has done with UNM men’s basketball is remarkable. What Kill has done in his first year as Aggies head coach, inheriting a program that had gone 8-30 the previous four years and taking it to a 7-6 record (6-2 down the stretch), the program’s first win over UNM since 2017 and a victory over Bowling Green in the Quick Lane Bowl, is downright miraculous.
Honorable Mention: Pitino, Joe Franklin (UNM women’s cross country), Chris Jans (NMSU men’s basketball).
MALE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR: Alex Bregman.
It’s true, Bregman’s 2022 numbers (.259, 23 HR, 93 RBIs, .820 OPS) were good but not great. It’s true that for many he’ll never completely crawl out from under the great Astros sign-stealing scandal of 2017.Â
The Albuquerque native and Albuquerque Academy grad hit only .238 in the 2022 World Series.
Yet there he was again, on Major League Baseball’s greatest stage – hitting clutch home runs and driving in 11 runs in 13 postseason games as the Astros won it all.
For Bregman, at age 28, there’s much more to come.
Honorable mention: Wynton Bernard, Albuquerque Isotopes; Diego Pavia, NMSU football; Jaelen House and Jamal Mashburn Jr., UNM men’s basketball; Teddy Allen, NMSU men’s basketball; Cody Moon, UNM football; Logan Gallina, NMSU baseball; Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors (NMSU).
FEMALE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR: Andrea Howard.
Howard, a former Eastdale Little League phenom and La Cueva star, set a UNM record of 47 home runs during her four-year career.
As a senior in 2022, she led the Lobos in virtually every offensive category: a .403 batting average, 18 home runs, 57 RBIs, a .531 on-base percentage. She was a first-team All-Mountain West selection for the third straight year and was named an Academic All-American.
After the season, Howard signed on with new Lobos softball coach Nicole Dickson as a volunteer assistant.
“I didn’t get enough of Lobo softball,” she said. Clearly, though, she gave everything she had.
SPECIAL MENTION: Chase Ealey.
By the Bregman standard – high achievement at the highest level – Ealey richly deserves Athlete of the Year honors. The decision here, nonetheless, was to go with Howard.
Still, world track-and-field champions from New Mexico are rare indeed. Los Alamos’ Ealey, who won the gold in the discus at World Championships this summer in Eugene, Oregon, is just that.
Honorable mention: Jaydyn Edwards and Leilani Baker, UNM soccer; Shaquiel McGruder, Jaedyn De La Cerda, LaTora Duff, LaTascya Duff and Antonia Anderson, UNM basketball; Amelia Mazzie-Downie and Gracelyn Larkin, UNM cross country; Mariah Duran (Manzano), skateboarding.
AND IN 2023: Can Lobo men’s basketball reach and surpass the 1967-68 team’s 17 wins to start the season? Can Kill continue to build on his remarkable first season in Las Cruces? Can Danny Gonzales flip the switch on Lobo football, in this era of NIL and the transfer portal, after 2-5, 3-9 and 2-10 seasons?Â
And can 12 months pass without another terrible reminder that our sports do not exist in a vacuum?
The bitters and the suite, after all.