Taos Knighthawks maintain league lead with concentrated effort

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Nearly 200 players and 50 teams from Northern New Mexico showed up for rounds 5-8 of the Northern Schools Chess League held in Wagon Mound, Nov. 17. And when it was all over, the Taos Knighthawks maintained their top spot. Nineteen Knighthawks, making up five teams, took the long bus ride to Wagon Mound to compete in the event.

Going into the competition, a young middle/ junior high team from Taos was in a two-way tie for first place overall. They went on to post a perfect 4-0 record and stretch their middle school lead to two-and-a-half points over second place Santa Fe Prep. They also maintained their first-place overall standing and two-way tie among all schools (including high schools) – two full points ahead of perennial rival Los Alamos.

In round five, the undefeated Taos Junior High team faced the Santa Fe Indian School and cruised to a 4-0 victory. In the next round, they faced a team from the Santa Fe Academy of Technology and Classics – winning in dominating fashion, 3-1. In the seventh round against a strong team from Mandela International School, things didn’t look good as Taos was losing on boards one and three. But somehow, eighth-grader Robbie Gersten from Anansi School, turned his game around and secured another 3-1 victory.

In the last round, Taos finally got their match against Santa Fe Prep Mid School – their first non-high school opponent. Sixth-grader, Lukas Backer, who was filling in on board four, pulled out an early key victory. Next, Nitis Morgan finished up his day with a perfect 4-0 record on board two. Finally, Gersten followed suit with his fourth straight win, sealing the match win. Credit for the team’s victories also went to first board and team captain Kian Morgan.

Other Taos teams also played well. Going undefeated with one draw was the young K-6 Taos Elementary division team. The top two boards, Sean Ritchie and Perry Kushner, both had perfect 4-0 records to lead their team. This qualifies the team to participate in the “final four” showdown among the top teams in January.

In perhaps an even more surprising performance, the Vista Grande High School team from Taos, participating in their first competition of the year, posted an impressive 3-1 record. Board two Donovan Maestas managed an amazing 4-0 personal score while board one and team captain River Trujillo compiled a nice 3-1 performance.

“I was pretty amazed at the event,” said Vista Grande coach Will McGuire. “To see nearly 200 mostly high school students quietly focusing, straining their brains, in a giant gymnasium, was quite a site. And I thought all our players did great.”

Knighthawks head coach Dennis Hedges also complimented the players including the Mid School “B” team with top boards Mia vanWilligen and Cyrus Cameron who led their team to a 3-1 record.

“I’m proud of all of our players,” said Hedges. “Even the 4- to 5-hour round trip bus ride wasn’t that bad. Many of the players took advantage of the time to study their chess tactics. And what I might have liked the best about the trip was the camaraderie of our diverse group of players.”

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