For many sports fans hereabouts, the real season begins now. Today, when the high school state basketball tournament begins.
The girls will roll it out today and it’s the boys’ turn on Saturday.
This weekend, of course, is simply the prelude – the appetizer – for next week when schools descend on Rio Rancho, Bernalillo and, eventually, for the talented and lucky few, Albuquerque for a coveted game under the Pit’s bright lights.
Here, then, is a brief look at the opening-round games and perhaps a glimpse into one man’s view of the future.
No. 3 Capital (24-4) vs. No. 14 Artesia (11-13), 7 p.m. Bulldogs 6-6 post Justin Houghtaling will be a handful for the size-challenged Jaguars. But it’s difficult to see Artesia handling the speed, quickness and shooting prowess of Jags guards Jeremy Anaya, (14.1 points a game), Eric Coca (13.6 points, 3.0 steals) and Augie Larranaga (7.8 points). A December game in Artesia went Capital’s way 63-35 — look for more of the same. A second-round win over either Los Lunas or Goddard — both of which the Jaguars beat on the road — should set up a nice semifinal clash with No. 2 Grants.
No. 5 Española Valley (20-9) vs. No. 12 Piedra Vista (14-13), 5 p.m. This game should prove to be little more than a blip on the road for the Sundevils on the way to a quarterfinal meeting with No. 4 Farmington. Elias Archuleta, Uriah Arellano and the 6-4 Azaiah Salazar present a formidable trio for the ‘Devils.
No. 2 Robertson (24-4) vs. No. 15 Wingate (15-14), 5 p.m. The biggest danger for the Cardinals is looking past any opponents to a potential semifinal clash with crosstown rival West Las Vegas. Robertson is 9-0 at home, and standout guards Sebastian Gonzales (19.6 points), Warren Fulgenzi (17.5 points) and Arjay Ortiz (10.4 points, 9.6 rebounds) will not let the team falter early.
No. 3 West Las Vegas (20-8) vs. No. 14 Taos (9-16), 5 p.m. The Dons go as mercurial guard D.J. Bustos goes. If he’s firing from outside, WLV will go a long way because it opens up the rest of the floor for the other players. Again, the Dons are gunning for the Cards in the semis. The Tigers did fare well earlier at WLV and likely won’t again.
No. 4 Pojoaque Valley (21-7) vs. No. 13 Socorro (13-15), 7 p.m. Three teams from District 2 in the top four speaks to the depth of the district and means each has been tested. The Elks shouldn’t have any trouble with the Warriors, but Silver will present issues and dominant Hope Christian looms in the semifinals.
No. 9 St. Michael’s (10-14) VS. No. 8 Sandia Prep (12-15), 6 p.m. If Eric Schandelwein, a 6-5 senior post, gets going, the Horsemen just may slip past District 5 rival Sundevils. But a quarterfinal meeting would pit St. Mike’s against prohibitive state champion favorite Hope Christian, which has won six of the past seven championships.
No. 11 Santa Fe Indian School (15-14) VS. No. 6 Bloomfield (15-14), 5 p.m. The Braves are riding a wave of emotion after the ouster of their head coach and are playing their best ball of the season. That’s probably not going to be enough to carry them past the Bobcats after a long road trip.
No. 3 Pecos (21-6) vs. No. 14 Cuba (15-12), 6 p.m. The Rams should pose no roadblock for the Panthers, who are led by Mario Archuleta (14.8 points), Arturo Archuleta (14.0 points) and Carlos Cordova (10.8 points, 4.8 steals).
No. 2 Mora (23-5) vs. No. 15 Questa (11-15), 6 p.m. In 6-0 post Gabriel Gallegos, the Wildcats have just one player taller than 5-10, while the Rangers boast significantly more size. And senior Casimiro is one of the most prolific scorers in the class, at 20.6 a game.
No. 4 Escalante (20-7) vs. No. 13 Navajo Pine (17-10), 5 p.m. Blessed with athletes who have already won a football championship, the Lobos are led by seniors Jojo Hurd (21.4 points, 12.0 rebounds) and Dominic Montañ0 (16.1).
No. 14 McCurdy (11-12) VS. No. 3 Magdalena (22-5), 4 p.m. The Bobcats will need to contain Jorrell Mirabal (20.2 points) and Anthony Pino (16.2 points, 10.8 rebounds), and McCurdy seniors Jordan Sanchez (12.8 points) and Alejandro Cross (12.1 points) will need to be on fire.
No. 8 Santa Fe Waldorf (17-5) vs. No. 9 Reserve (11-15), 2 p.m., Christian Life Gym. The Wolves have a tall, veteran group in seniors 6-4 Shae Bennett, 6-3 Sean Ramsey, 6-2 Ivan Davila and 6-1 Augie Ciofalo. But if they get by the first round, they get No. 1 Cliff.
No. 4 Española Valley (23-4) vs. No. 13 Del Norte (13-13), 7 p.m. The Sundevils already own a couple of Knights hides this season and one more should certainly be following shortly behind Kaitlyn Romero and Leah DeAguero. Española Valley is 9-0 at home and has won nine in a row overall. Expect the Sundevils to be gunning for a fourth meeting with rival Los Alamos in the semifinals in a game that will have the Pit packed and rocking.
No. 5 Los Alamos (21-7) vs. No. 12 Goddard (13-14), 6 p.m. It’s hard to envision the Rockets putting up much resistance to the Hilltoppers with twin scoring threats Kayla Salazar (16.8 points, 3.0 steals) and Ashlynn Trujillo (16.7 points, 4.1 steals). Los Alamos lost all three meetings with the Sundevils as a foreshadowing of the semifinals.
No. 3 West Las Vegas (24-3) vs. No. 14 Sandia Prep (113-15), 6 p.m. The Dons are rolling behind Deanna Bustos. As long as they can keep Maddie Trainor (22 points, 4.7 steals) from going off, WLV should have no issues moving on. The real challenge will come in the semis against No. 2 Shiprock.
No. 6 Santa Fe Indian School (18-10) vs. No. 11 Ruidoso (15-13), 7 p.m. The Lady Braves’ scrambling defense should be enough to shut down the Warriors’ two true threats in Lia Mosher (13.1 points, 15.9 rebounds) and Dennise Martinez (12.9 points).
No. 7 Taos (16-12) vs. No. 10 St. Michael’s (16-12), 7 p.m. This could very well be one of the best games of the opening round as the teams match up extremely well. The difference could be home cooking. Aaliyah Quintana (13.8 points) is the go-to Tiger, but they don’t really have anybody that can match up with Horsemen 6-0 post Danielle Vigil.
No. 9 Robertson (14-14) VS. No. 8 Bloomfield (18-10), 6 p.m. The Bobcats have a balanced scoring attack with five players putting up at least seven points, led by Destiny Walther (13.8), but the Cardinals are defensive-oriented team that averages almost 13 steals a game.
No. 13 Pojoaque Valley (12-15) VS. No. 4 Kirtland Central (20-8), 6 p.m. The Elkettes were tested with a tough schedule and they will need that resolve against the Broncos, led by Haile Gleason (14.5 points). Kaylee Salazar is Pojoaque’s go-to player.
No. 10 Pecos (19-10) VS. No. 7 Tucumcari (17-7), 6 p.m. With a coach like Ron Drake, who has racked up more than 400 wins in New Mexico, the Panthers are very much in good shape to pull off a victory and likely face No. 2 Texico.
No. 13 Dulce (13-14) VS. No. 4 Tohatchi (24-3), 6 p.m. The Hawks get production up and down the lineup, with Dezirae Harrison averaging 10.5 points.
No. 5 Mora (19-9) vs. No. 12 Escalante (17-9), 6 p.m. The Lobos will try to exert defensive pressure after averaging almost 14 steals a game. Alex Marquez is the scoring leader (11.1), but the Rangerettes counter with the scoring prowess of Brianna Pacheco (15.7 points).
No. 10 Mesa Verde (17-11) VS. Melrose (17-9), 6 p.m. It will be a long haul for the Trojans against the Buffaloes.