So here is one person’s look back at 2016 for the top-10 sports stories in northern New Mexico. There are, of course, the normal huzzahs for achievement and a few for, well, conflict. We’ll even include a few noteworthy stories that perhaps did not quite fit the top-10 but still deserve to be noticed.
10. Santa Fe Prep wins second boys soccer championship in three years. The Blue Griffins’ Jacob Cook scored from about 20 yards out for the game’s only score over perennial A-4A powerhouse Bosque.
9. El Fuego collapse. Has the bloom faded from the Fuego baseball team in its fifth season? The Pecos League squad managed to win just 19 games and finished with a league-worst .287 winning percentage. The team with the funky ballpark was still considered the league’s poster child for success, but many more similar seasons could prove fatal.
8. Los Vatos of New Mexico Highlands University win back-to-back rugby championships. The Vatos dominated the National Small College Rugby Organization’s 7s national tournament in Chester, Pa., rolling over every opponent by at least a 20-point margin, including 31-7 over St. Mary’s in the final. “This thing has gone ballistic,” said coach Dick Greene.
7. St. Michael’s wrestler Xavier Vigil cruises to undefeated season. Vigil made it through the season with barely a blip. He polished off a 31-0 record in the 195-pound weight division with a pin of Shiprock’s Logan Charley. It gave Vigil consecutive titles after winning at 182 in 2015. His chance at a three-peat took a significant hit when he suffered a major knee injury in the Horsemen’s quarterfinal football win against Moriarty.
6. Santa Fe High School’s Akeisha Ayanniyi sets long jump record. On the final jump of her high school career, Ayanniyi launched herself not only to a gold medal in the long jump, but also into the record books. A year after her winning long jump was ruled not a state record because of the wind, Ayanniyi erased one of the state’s oldest marks – Hobbs’ Cassandra White’s 1984 record – going 19-9¼. For good measure, the UNM signee took second in the 100 and third in the 200.
5. All Peñasco’s Isaiah Rodarte did was win three state championships – the 800, 1,600 and 3,200. Oh, and he set records in each one. And he did the 800 and 3,200 on the same day. In the 3,200, however, bookkeepers had little work to do as he already owned that record, but just lowered it by four seconds.
4. Injuries derail Caroline Rotich’s shot at a repeat Boston Marathon victory. A year after Rotich was the toast of Santa Fe for her victory in the country’s premier distance event, she could only watch in frustration as foot and heel pain forced her to drop out of the race five miles in. It was determined that Rotich had suffered a severely inflamed long plantar ligament and calcaneus bone, leading to unbearable pain, which also derailed her hopes of representing Kenya in this year’s Olympics.
3. Valles Caldera bear attack. This was one of the sadder stories of the year as a female bear mauled runner Karen Williams of Los Alamos during the annual Valles Caldera Runs. Held about a month later than usual because of inclement weather, Williams stumbled across the bear and her two cubs at Redondo Meadow and was attacked. Williams survived the attack by playing dead, although she suffered severe facial and body injuries. The adult bear was eventually found and euthanized so her brain could be tested for rabies, while the cubs were rescued and eventually freed back to the wild. Williams has been working to get the state law overturned requiring the rabies test.
2. Santa Fe Indian School-St. Michael’s squabble. This was one of the year’s more sordid tales that is still cloaked in a certain amount of mystery as to who said what to whom and why. It all started with a misunderstanding of when Braves basketball players could begin warming up for the second half during a game at St. Mike’s. It ended with claims of racial epithets being shouted and the firing of high-profile Indian School coaches Ceci Moses and her husband/assistant coach Rick Schimmel shortly before the district tournament.
1. Española Valley boys basketball. The Sundevils made an improbable run to its second state championship behind coach Richard Martinez in March and weeks later, Martinez was fired amid claims of abusive behavior toward his players and other students. Shortly thereafter, district superintendant Bobbie Gutierrez resigned, prompting Española Valley football coach Miguel Medina to also resign in protest. Under a negotiated agreement, Martinez was then rehired, but hasn’t coached yet this season as the Public Education Department took over financial control of the school district and is seeking to remove Martinez’s educational licenses, pending a hearing on the matter.
There were some other strong contenders for the list, in no particular order: Sarah Lott of Los Alamos made her final high school meet a memorable one. Lott, who is now at the University of Utah, set a state record in the 200-yard freestyle in 1 minute, 49.29 seconds. She also won the 100 freestyle.
Gary Tripp, a Las Vegas native and West Las Vegas graduate, was enshrined in the New Mexico Sports Hall of Fame for his work as the executive director of the New Mexico Activities Association.
Jocelyn Fernandez, daughter of St. Michael’s football coach Joey Fernandez, made history with her play for the Horsemen football team. The younger Fernandez, a wide receiver, had eight catches on the season for 48 yards and a touchdown.
Robertson football — which had an undefeated season until the final game — and West Las Vegas boys basketball, each reached the championship game before falling. The Robertson tennis program continued its run of excellence with Warren Fulgenzi going 24-0 to win state and the Cardinals girls blitzing the opposition for a team title.
And finally a nod to Keanna Capener of St. Michael’s, who had to overcome stage two Hodgkin’s lymphoma to help the Lady Horsemen’s Pony Express dance team win a 25th state championship.