When Albuquerque Public Schools made it known they were opening the door for out-of-state travel for its spring sports programs this year, the La Cueva baseball team was one of the first to sign up for a chance to pack its bags.
The Bears this week are headed to the Phoenix area to play four games in the Coach Bob National Invitational. There are 100 teams scheduled to compete, scattered across numerous venues.
Not counting cheerleading squads, La Cueva is the first team from a major APS team sport to take advantage of this new initiative.
“We’ve been invited to several national tournaments in the past,” Bears head coach Gerard Pineda said. “It’s something we’ve always wanted to do.”
APS district athletic director Adrian Ortega told the Journal last April that this was coming, starting with the spring sports of the 2022-23 school year.
The fall sports programs — with the exception of football — and the winter sports programs can take a similar trip starting with the 2023-24 school year, if they so choose. Albuquerque High, for example, is circling the possibility of taking its boys and girls basketball teams to Juneau, Alaska for an event next season. AHS athletic director Chad Jones said the school is close to finalizing.
Football must wait because the 2023 season is the back end of a two-year scheduling block, so they could not leave the state for a game until the 2024 season. La Cueva is expected to be the first to schedule such a game outside the state.
Ortega said he consulted the 13 high school principals “and all 13 were in favor of this initiative.”
The travel is limited to one trip per season, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be outside of New Mexico’s borders. It could be an in-state tournament/weekend.
And there is a catch: the teams must raise the money to pay for these trips themselves. Pineda said a few weeks ago that La Cueva would be spending in the “high teens” to travel to Arizona. They leave on Wednesday. They’ll play one game Thursday, two Friday and a fourth game on Saturday.
“We’ve wanted to go play other states and see how we stack up against people from around the country,” Pineda said. “I’m very thankful to the APS administration for allowing us to do that.”
The travel is one of a handful of changes Ortega has implemented since he took over the job. Allowing eighth-graders to play high school is another; bringing in schools from outside the metro area for metro tournaments started with the basketball tournaments in January was yet another.
POSTSEASON HARDWOOD HONORS: Gatorade has chosen Volcano Vista sophomore forward Kenyon Aguino as its New Mexico Player of the Year.
The 6-foot-7 Aguino, who recently led the Hawks to the Class 5A state title, averaged 19 points, 9 rebounds and 3 assists.
Meanwhile, MaxPreps.com chose its two top players from the 2022-23 season. They are Del Norte senior guard Shane Douma-Sanchez and Eldorado sophomore guard Bella Hines.
COMING UP: Rio Rancho is hosting baseball and softball tournaments this week.
The Sal Puentes tournament starts Thursday, with several of the state’s top baseball teams in the field, including defending 5A state champion Carlsbad.
The Cavemen meet Cleveland at 1:30 p.m. Thursday. Valley takes on Albuquerque Academy at 11 a.m., Sandia plays Artesia at 4 p.m., and the host Rams face Goddard at 6:30 p.m. The semifinals are Friday, the championship game is 3 p.m. Saturday.
The Kristin Griego softball tournament at Eagle Ridge Middle School is arguably the most elite regular-season event in New Mexico. There are 22 schools entered. Metro finalists La Cueva and Volcano Vista are among those; so are three of last year’s state champions — Carlsbad (5A), Gallup (4A) and Robertson (3A).
The championship game is 4 p.m. Saturday.
THIS AND THAT: Manny Vigil was announced Monday as the head girls basketball coach at Los Lunas High School. He is a previous head coach at Valencia and, most recently, Alamogordo. … The addition of eighth-grade athletes to high school sports paid off for Manzano’s Kiana Weirick, who recently won a golf tournament at Arroyo Del Oso Golf Course. … Valley High football player Caeden Jojola has made a football commitment to New Mexico Highlands in Las Vegas.