As we forge ahead into the new sports season, we take a look back at the top stories in 2017-18. Here are the big moments that ocurred in Taos County.
25. NMAA shakes things up
Realignment and reclassification of schools for athletic purposes occurs every two years and often changes the dynamics of the respective leagues high school teams belong to.
The New Mexico Activities Association board of directors voted to approve the realignment and reclassification of athletic teams for the 2018-2020 school-year block during its regular session Nov. 30, eliminating class 6A. That means Taos will move up to play bigger schools, and Peñasco and Questa will have bigger schools drop down to play them.
This effectively ends regular match-ups with current rivals West Las Vegas and St. Michael’s and moves Taos into a new district with Española Valley, Pojoaque Valley, Los Alamos and Moriarty. In addition, Coronado will join District 5-2A in 2018-19.
24. Lady Cats bump, set and skunk defending champs
Questa answers demand of beating both Escalante and Mora to start volleyball district play
It had been more than six years since a Questa Lady Cat volleyball team defeated a Mora Rangerette team. Specifically, the last time Questa beat Mora was September 16, 2011 – barely nipping at the decadelong series record against the Rangerettes, which stood at 2-16 since the 2007 season. In that forgettable stretch, Questa was “skunked” (losing by a score of 3-0) eight times and lost 3-1 six times. Only two matches went a full five sets.
This time it was the Lady Cats who would do the skunking, toppling the defending class 2A state champions 3-0 at the “Mini-Pit” Sept. 30.
23. Tigers start season 5-0
The Taos Tigers football team easily defeated the Santa Fe Indian School Braves to pick up its fifth straight win to start the 2017 season.
In the first five games of the fall campaign, Taos racked up 248 points and allowed just 56 points in games against Hatch Valley, Hope Christian, New Mexico Military Institute, Santa Fe High and Santa Fe Indian School. The total point sum and the point differential (points attained versus points allowed) of 192 was the best among Class 4A teams.
Coach Abreu Jr. and company would go on to finish the season at 8-4 overall (.666 win percentage) and earn a No. 7 seed in the Class 4A state playoffs. it was his best season thus far in his three-year tenure.
22. Excellence Recognized
Accompanied by his family, Coach Ben Sanchez gracefully stands at mid-court of the Ben Lujan Gymnasium at Pojoaque Valley High School with the plaque ceremoniously given to him by the Northern Río Grande Conference committee, which inducted Sanchez into its Hall of Fame Jan. 6.
The presentation was held during the halftime of the boys championship game and in front of hundreds of fans in attendance. Sanchez is the current coach of the Peñasco Panthers and Lady Panthers' cross-country teams. His most recent achievement was a second-consecutive cross-country state championship garnered in November, 2017.
21. Peñasco Lady Panthers repeat
The Peñasco Lady Panthers quietly earned their second-consecutive state cross-country title
The Lady Panthers won their second consecutive state title in class 2A with a 1, 3, 5, 11 and 12-point cumulative team score of 32 – besting their score from 2016 by 17 points.
20. Questa and Peñasco buses shot
In two separate incidences, activity school buses from both Peñasco High School and Questa High School were hit with what police ascertained to be pellets from an “air soft or pellet gun” that caused damage to each of their respective passenger windows while traveling through the Española area Oct. 3.
19. Burning dirt
Taos Lady Tigers leave no doubt they are one of the premiere running programs in the state with a dominating performance at state.
The questions on the tongues of other girls cross-country teams in class 4A before last year's cross-country championships in Rio Rancho had to be: “Will we see a crack in the Taos Lady Tigers' roster and have a chance at the 4A state title this year?” Another pertinent question: “Is there light at the end of this tunnel?”
The short answers: No and no.
No, to the idea that the Lady Tigers' roster was vulnerable in any way from places one to seven. Though they only had one senior running (Cora Cannedy) at the New Mexico State Cross-country Championships Nov. 4, Taos dominated the field and delivered its lowest score ever – 31 points to win by 45 points over the next place team, the Hope Christian Lady Huskies, who tallied 76. The throttling came on the heels and toes of Taos' fielded team, which included one junior, four freshmen and one eighth-grader to accompany upperclassman Cannedy.
To put the race in perspective, all of Taos' scoring (top five) runners crossed the finish line a full 35-seconds before Hope Christian's No. 4 and 5 runners. Also, Taos' entire contingent of seven runners – which included the five top-scoring runners and the two nonscorers in place six and seven for Taos – were done before the Lady Huskies' fifth and final scoring runner crossed the finish line.
The win gave Taos it's fourth state title in five years and the seventh blue trophy in either cross-country or track and field (both boys and girls) for Hall of Fame coach Bruce Gomez.
Despite moving up in classification in 2018-19, Taos is poised to remain a strong contender among Class 4A teams.
18. Questa considers ending spring sports
The fate of spring sports at Questa High School was in question after reports that the Questa Schools District could scuttle baseball and track.
Spring sports at the high school were temporarily put on hold as administrators and the school board were confronted with a cash shortfall with its budget in February.
The decision would have impacted the baseball and track programs.
District superintendent at the time, David Albert, refuted the claim in a phone interview, but questions remained about the fate of the two sports. According to Albert, his office had no intention to cancel the spring season. However, he acknowledged a misunderstanding might have developed between school personnel and the community at large. Albert went on to reiterate his support for athletics, expressing his interest in expanding the use of the facilities to the community during the off-season for adult recreation.
The two sports ultimately embarked on and completed their 2018 spring seasons.
Lady Panthers make it look easy, cruise to NRG championship glory
Although the Peñasco Lady Panthers had just won the 2018 Northern Río Grande girls basketball tournament championship, the celebration inside the locker room after the game didn’t seem to match the accomplishment just attained. Instead, passive, congratulatory high-fives and subdued whoops dominated the scene as the team gathered closely to hear their coach give his post-game evaluation – 10 sets of eyes locked in laser focus on their leader. Occasionally, a few distracted eyes darted down to admire their own hands and the perfectly fitted gold hoops now adorning their ring fingers - but only for an averted second, or two. It was as if. . . .the outcome was expected.
Such is the character of this 2017-18 team that has garnered a fifth-place, third place and first place in the three tournaments attended this season – fulfilling the personal goal coach Gilbert Mascareñas set at the start of the winter sports campaign to win two of three games in the first two tourneys and to take the NRG title outright.
16. Questa recharges, earns another parade
It's d èjá vu at Dreamstyle Arena as the Questa Wildcats win their second consecutive state title in class 2A by manufacturing two stellar routines 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.
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.
15. Taos’ mega hoops turnaround
Tigers defend their home court, hoist championship trophy after victory over Horsemen in district title tilt
The Taos Tigers basketball team went from worst to first in 2017-18 by finishing the regular season 16-10 overall and 7-1 in district play, and earning a “bye” to the district championship game. It was a remarkable turnaround that saw first-year coach Nando Chavez named District 2-4A “Coach of the Year” for his role in the rebuild.
Chavez was tapped to take over an embattled boys basketball program that struggled against district opponents for the past two years, winning only one league game over the course of two seasons.
14. Have bus, will travel, will win
Peñasco Lady Panthers summit the apex of the fall sports world with first place victory at cross-country state meet and first place at district volleyball championship on same day
Success came in the form of two historic wins for the Peñasco Lady Panthers Nov. 4.
First, in dominating fashion, the Lady Panthers reclaimed their crown as state champions in cross-country at Rio Rancho High School. Then, a mere eight hours later, Peñasco would claim the District 5-2A title in volleyball at Escalante High School in Tierra Amarilla.
Ultimately, it was more than a 350-mile round trip on a bus and two very important wins. It was overcoming obstacles, such as physical, mental and spiritual fatigue to show the world Peñasco girls are truly tough athletes.
13. Parched wrestlers make it rain
Tigers regain their place on the winner’s podium—after a nearly three-decade hiatus—with fantastic finish at state.
The Taos Tiger wrestling team brought home hardware, ending a 29-year drought, after clinging to a one point lead over the Robertson Cardinals to place third at the New Mexico State Wrestling Tournament in Rio Rancho Feb. 16-17.
The Tigers acquired that lead after Jesse Ayala won the individual title in the 220-pound division over Isaiah Sanchez from Silver City. Ayala and the Tigers needed every point he was able to muster in his finals match, including a fall (pin) on Sanchez at the 5:29 mark to catapult Taos into the third place slot with 153 total points. The Cardinals finished with 152.
For coach Valencia, it was his second consecutive year that at least three of his wrestlers came out on top as Tyler Valencia, Ayala and Elisha Duran each garnered individual titles.
12. Taos Cheer strives for five, rolls inside Dreamstyle
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 competed in its current division and dominated the sport, soaring to new heights with each year's vault and leaving no doubt a dynasty has been built.
11. Moon shots kink Horsemen's armor – twice
Two double overtime games ended well for Taos as late game shots by Quinn Moon help the Tigers pick up crucial wins vs. rival St. Michael's Horsemen.
In the second game of the district season between Taos and St. Mike's Feb. 7, a crucial situation developed and a minor miracle was needed.
Down by 3 points in regulation, the Tigers came out of a timeout with a play aimed at getting off a desperation, 3-point shot. Off the inbound pass, Quinn Moon barely had enough time to receive the pass, square up and deliver his long range shot attempt from beyond the left elbow of the 3-point arc. The subsequent splash at the buzzer sent the hometown crowd into a lunatic frenzy as the game went into overtime.
Ultimately, Taos would win the key district tilt in double overtime, 60-55. It was the second double overtime game between Taos and St. Michael's this season and the second time a 3-point shot by Moon was the deciding factor.
The win clinched the District 2-4A regular-season title for coach Nando Chavez and company.
10. Tigers bite their fifth straight trophy
In many ways, the term “broken record” could have been the theme for the way Taos finished at this year's state track meet. The final result was a fifth straight team title and another blue trophy for coach Benny Mitchell and his boys as they once again held off the usual contenders.
9. Jalen “No-No” Montaño
Jalen Montaño led the Taos Tigers to victory over the Raton Tigers by pitching a “no-hitter” in Taos’ 10-0 win at the 10th Annual Jim Pierce Memorial Baseball Tournament at St. Michael’s High School March 17.
The rare feat— in any level of baseball— was achieved when Montaño and the Taos Tiger defense prevented Raton from getting a hit during their consolation championship matchup.
It was only the second varsity start for the eighth-grader. Coach Miguel Quintana stated that this was the first no-hitter he had ever coached.
8. Lady Tigers win state
Team’s depth key in state championship victory as Taos reclaims track and field dominance in Class 4A
Both the boys and girls won their respective divisions: the first time since 2014. They swept state titles and awarded coach Benny Mitchell with his eighth blue trophy overall. But it was the girls' win that seemed a bit more satisfying to the storied coach, who missed placing in the top three by a mere point in 2017.
The win ended a four-year slide in which the Lady Tigers did not earn a trophy as a team at state.
7. Questa coach axed
Ill-timed turnover bug hits athletic program as basketball coach given a pink slip before start of season in Wildcat nation
Questa Independent Schools fired Tomas Madrid as the head boys basketball coach in a surprise move – a mere two weeks before the official start of the 2017-18 season.
Hired in May 2016 to replace the late Cruz Chavez II who, at the time opted out of his contract to continue as head coach of the Wildcats, Madrid accomplished several notable benchmarks during his short tenure, including victories over Mora and Escalante the previous year.
Questa superintendent at the time, David Albert, indicated that the position was “at-will,” and no reason was necessary to remove Madrid from his post.
The Wildcats never recovered from the sudden tumult and finished the season with a 2-24 overall record.
6. Powell conquers Friends
Faith Powell finishes with three gold and two silver medals and was recognized as the “High Point Female Athlete” with the 28 points garnered at the 2018 state track and field championships at Friends of UNM Track Stadium May 11-12.
Continually improving throughout the season, the junior saved her best for last and improved her distances in both the long jump and the triple jump at the state meet, easily winning both events. In the long jump, Powell added nearly 8 inches to her previous best distance with a leap of 18 feet, 5.5 inches – just missing the 4A state record by a mere 1.25 inches – May 11. The following day, she out jumped the field by more than a foot to earn the triple jump title by recording a distance of 37 feet, 11.5 inches.
Powell also earned a first-place medal in the high jump, where she cruised to victory with a height of 5 feet, 4 inches: her fourth straight state title in this event.
Her two runner-up finishes occurred in the 200-meter dash and as a member of the 4x200-meter relay.
5. Duran duo make history
Sisters, Elisha and AnnaLiz Duran travel to Rio Rancho to participate in the first ever girls wrestling tournament Feb. 17.
Pioneers in their own right, Duran sisters link arms with other female wrestlers in New Mexico, shining a light on an emerging sport.
Elisha cruised through the 131-pound class – pinning all of her opponents – despite a noticeable weight difference between her and the other girls in the division and earned 24 points. AnnaLiz came in third in the girls 106-pound division and earned 15 points.
4. Taos gets its first golf championship
Josh Fambro wins Class A/4A state golf championship by three strokes, capping a stellar regular season that witnessed three tournament wins and nine qualifying legs.
With a fabulous two-day, 36-hole performance, Josh Fambro delivers Taos High School its first-ever individual state golf title. The junior carded a 152 (8 over par) to win the Class A/4A state tournament at The Canyon Club at Four Hills in Albuquerque May 7-8.
3. Who needs a silly cowbell, anyway?
Peñasco Lady Panthers finish stellar season with a 26-5 overall record and advance to the Class 2A state title game at “The Pit.”
Before a huge crowd of blue and gold clad fans who occupied an entire bank of seats inside Dreamstyle Arena, aka “The Pit,” the Peñasco Lady Panthers attempted to break a second-place streak and bring home the school's fourth state title in any sport March 9.
The Lady Panthers ultimately fell to the Fort Sumner/House Vixens, 49-38 and instead had to settle for a third runner-up trophy in girls’ basketball – a notable achievement nonetheless.
Gilbert Mascareñas, who completed his second year as head coach, led the squad to the Class 2A championship game by beating the Questa Lady Cats in the opening round, the Magdalena Lady Steers in the quarterfinals and the Lordsburg Lady Mavericks in the semifinals. In his two years at the helm, Mascareñas has amassed a 44-16 record (.733 win percentage). His tenure now includes a fortuitous walk down the storied ramp of “The Pit” for a chance to win a title.
The runner-up trophy garnered by this particular team was yet another achievement the Lady Panthers added to their 2017-18 collection.
At the conclusion of the state title game, Lady Panther, Alaska Lopez stood before the large group of Peñasco fans and flashed “I love you” in sign language before heading to the locker room.
2. Jonah Vigil delivers again
Jonah Vigil sweeps sprint events and finishes with five gold medals at the 2018 state track and field championships in Albuquerque May 11-12. Vigil was recognized as the “High Point Male Athlete” with the 30.5 points, boosting the Taos Tigers' total as they picked up their fifth state crown.
1. Must be a stick-shift
Clutch play by Jude Suazo and Anthony Maestas at the end of Taos versus Hope Christian in the first round of the state playoffs at Anaya Stadium Nov. 10 was one of the best ever
Down by four points and facing fourth down and eight yards to go with under 45 seconds left in the game, Taos quarterback Jude Suazo escaped from a hard-charging Hope defensive line to deliver a high arcing pass to the end zone to a waiting Anthony Maestas. It was a do-or-die moment that had hundreds of Taos fans holding their breath until the spiraling football was snatched out of the air by Maestas for a touchdown.
Fans present in the stadium witnessed history and, arguably, one of the best games played at Anaya Stadium. The play will be talked about forever in Taos Tiger lore and will need a nickname to link it to our collective memories, It was the best ever.