Whenever I sit down on the Sunday following the state basketball tournament and ponder how best to reflect on the week, the quandary is much like the one we had as kids at Christmas: which gift should we open first?
The first thing that must be done is to acknowledge that, by and large, it was a spectacular week, brimming with thrilling action. Few days ever at the Pit could match the consistently gripping basketball we were privy to for part of Wednesday. During a six-hour, four-game stretch of boys games — Los Lunas-La Cueva, Valley-Artesia, Sandia-Cleveland, Taos-Highland — everyone’s pulses were racing. Captivating.
ON TOP: A hearty congrats to the 10 champions, starting with the Tohatchi girls on Friday afternoon and ending with the Volcano Vista boys late Saturday night.
There were no first-time state winners, but we did have two first-time finalists in the boys from ATC and the girls from To’hajiilee, both of which lost close games. The longest broken championship drought among the 10 champions came from Albuquerque Academy’s boys, who last won a title in 1994. Nice to see them back.
Texico’s girls were the lowest seed (7) to win a blue trophy.
Some may feel inclined to label Fort Sumner/House’s win over unbeaten Magdalena in the 1A boys final as a huge upset. It was not. It was a minor one, at best. FS/H was legit; this team lost a very close game to the Steers in the regular season.
As for the No. 1 seeds, half of them carried blue trophies up the Pit ramp: Volcano Vista, Academy, St. Michael’s and Pecos’ boys, plus the girls from Hobbs.
SOARING: Volcano Vista won its second straight boys title, 43-31 over Sandia. It was the fewest combined points scored in a big-school boys final in the modern era. I had to go back to 1952, when there weren’t any classes, to find a boys final with fewer points (69) than Saturday night.
It was surely an emotional evening for Greg and Danny Brown, the brothers who coached these schools.
“It was tough,” Greg Brown, the Hawks coach, said, a nod to winning over his brother.
MORE VV: Many of us saw something Saturday night we’d never seen before. Sandia and Volcano’s boys, arm in arm, gathered in a giant circle around the Lobo logo at the center of Bob King Court, in the moments before tipoff, an extraordinary demonstration of brotherhood. (Odds of the St. Michael’s and Robertson’s boys ever doing this? Lottery-esque.)
Although Volcano Vista did not repeat a boys/girls sweep, a P.S. on the girls:
Through my viewfinder, Volcano Vista coach Lisa Villareal did as stellar a coaching job this season as any in her career, and this is a woman who owns five championship rings. She led a team that graduated three players who are now Division I scholarship athletes at UNM, and still took the Hawks all the way to the finals.
Lisa someday will be a Hall of Famer. And so will Greg Brown, who now has four state titles, the last three coming with Volcano Vista.
The Volcano girls simply ran into a better team Saturday in Hobbs, which started mostly sophomores.
The only sophomore who wasn’t in the lineup, Kyndle Cunningham, couldn’t play. She and La Cueva’s Eva Love had been ejected in their semifinal game Thursday. (Sidebar: Tristen Critchfield, who was covering games for the Journal last week, told me later on Thursday that Love and Cunningham watched the rest of that game together from the media room at the top of the ramp.)
WATCHING: Don’t have actual numbers yet, but there were several notable crowds Friday and Saturday, including the Kirtland Central-Gallup girls (the largest of the tournament) and the Sandia-Volcano boys.
Some of you may have noticed a sophisticated film camera at various spots inside the Pit. That was part a film crew, shooting B-roll for an upcoming Netflix feature film, “Rez Ball,” about a fictional Native American team in New Mexico, the Chuska Warriors. LeBron James’ company is producing the movie.
WRAPPING IT UP: Jim Hulsman was back in the Pit on Saturday, with his 1998 Albuquerque High Bulldogs on their 25-year anniversary year. The Pit stood for him. Awesome sight.
And a shoutout to Carlsbad’s Allie Myers. When she fouled out of the Cavegirls’ quarterfinal against La Cueva, before going to her bench she took time to walk over and shake hands with all of the Bears on their bench. Well done, Allie.
And lastly, there was the brief appearance of Marquise Renfro on Wednesday night for Atrisco Heritage. This, just a couple of weeks after he was stabbed in a fight that hospitalized him for several days. Great to see him back on the floor.
And with that, Christmas is over.