This story was updated March 29, 2018
Two words. Fourteen characters in all caps, 500 Helvetica font in midnight blue painted on a pure-white, 10-mil vinyl banner.
Those are the words that have become staples in the Taos Tigers cheer team’s vernacular: state champions. And the special banner and accompanying blue trophy – regular subjects in the team photo – are occupying more space within the walls and display cases of Taos High School.
The same can be said for the Questa Wildcats who have found their own brand of balance at the top of the cheer pyramid.
For the second year in a row, the Taos Tigers and Questa Wildcats cheer teams claimed their respective places at the head of the interscholastic cheerleaders’ table: a fitting place for the two schools located at the geographic and altitudinal top of New Mexico.
Strive for five
Taos won its fourth-straight class 4A state championship, and fifth overall inside Dreamstyle Arena in Albuquerque March 24. Coach Lisa Abeyta-Valerio first obtained a state title in the class A-3A category as a “co-ed” team in 2014. Since then, Taos has dominated its division in the sport, soaring to new heights with each year’s vault and leaving no doubt a dynasty has been built.
Taos beat out the competition with a final score of 173.89, but had no clue as to where they stood after their second performance day that witnessed a stumble during one of their stunts. A cumulative tally based on two programs each day was kept, but it wasn’t until late Saturday afternoon (March 24) when teams learned their fate.
Hope Christian came in second with 163.35 points, followed by Ruidoso with 135.10, Robertson with 127.04 and Moriarty with 112.00.
As in previous years, the Tigers exhibited a strong performance right out of the starting gate with impressive pyramids and flawless tumbling. The result was a wire-to-wire victory that left opposing teams scratching their heads.
“Day one was solid,” said Valerio, who described this particular title run as both brutal and awesome. “We had that fall on day two, but we had built a sizable cushion with our game-day routine and that carried us.”
In post-event remarks, Valerio stated that the stress on the team to continue a consecutive title run climbs every year.
“There are so many things to consider when managing a team, especially one as large as ours,” said Valerio, who remarked about teams who specifically set out to catch the Tigers. “The girls really respond well to the pressure, though. I’m always surprised at how focused and tough they are when they take the floor.”
Next year, the pressure to win a sixth title will undoubtedly increase as realignment will thrust the Tigers into a much bigger pool of participating teams. With the contraction of the New Mexico Activities Association (NMAA) competition classifications in 2018-19, Taos will find itself with several current 5A squads that will become 4A next year. While there are no districts in spirit (cheer and dance), schools will fall into their respective divisions based on the level their basketball teams belong to.
All top three finishers in Class 5A— Lovington Wildcats (Class 5A champs), Valencia Jaguars (second) and Artesia Bulldogs (third) – will be in Taos’ division in the new school year.
Other teams coming down to join the Tigers include Aztec, St. Pius (Albuquerque), Goddard (Roswell), Los Lunas, Española and Del Norte (Albuquerque). Teams staying in Class 4A include Hope Christian (Albuquerque), Portales, Silver, Bernalillo, Ruidoso and Moriarty.
Knowing the change is looming, the Tigers’ head coach had measured response with regards to their new competitors. “We will prepare accordingly,” said Valerio. “Next year we will be fixed on six.”
Co-captains and seniors, Heaven Valdez and Anjelica Fresquez, have been on the Taos Tigers varsity team since they were eighth-graders and have been a part of each state championship, giving these two athletes five titles in five separate years. This rare occurrence is a first for any Taos athlete in any sport.
Another interesting story line includes freshman Jonnea Trujillo, who can claim state champion status on two separate teams in two consecutive years. Trujillo was a member of the Questa Wildcats as the lone eighth-grader last year, helping garner the school’s first state title in cheer and the second state championship in any sport.
In Class A-2A, the Questa Wildcats repeated as state champions as well, manufacturing two stellar performances to clinch the title.
The Wildcats earned a final score of 147.19, outlasting runner-up Fort Sumner with 138.71. Coming in third was Lordsburg with 121.03. Rounding out the top four was Floyd with a score of 106.99.
“It still hasn’t hit me,” said Wildcats’ head coach Kathy Gonzales, alluding to the shock of winning another state title. “This job requires a lot of work, and when it’s over, it takes a while to sink in.”
The Wildcats became two-time state title winners despite having only three returners from last year’s first championship team. Rianna Ortega, Sierra Cisneros and Marissa Romero were the backbone of a Wildcat squad, whose roster included six eighth-graders – half the team.
Like the Tigers, Questa set the tone on day one with a very strong “game day” program. “If you consider the difficulty factor and the choreography that goes into our routine, we feel we can compete with anyone,” said assistant coach Brandon Gonzales, “We had a small lead after the first day, but remained confident during our second performance.”
And like Taos, Questa will be affected by realignment next year. Due to the elimination of Class 6A, all 160 NMAA teams must combine into five divisions in 2018-19. Questa High School’s basketball team will be part of a new Class 2A that will take in 37 teams, including Pecos – who won their division – and Clayton, who drop down to 2A in this coming fall.
When the Wildcats returned from Albuquerque on Sunday (March 25), a championship parade was waiting for them. The girls were greeted by onlookers who lined the main street to clap and cheer as the team bus crawled through the village.
When the caravan arrived at the school, Questa’s interim superintendent, school board members, fans and community members welcomed the victors back home. Questa mayor, Mark Gallegos offered congratulatory words, acknowledging the first ever back-to-back titles in Questa