sports

View from an empty Pit

By Matthew Narvaiz
sports@taosnews.com
Posted 3/19/20

Have you ever been in a building so empty that the buzz of electric lights hanging above you have a deafening pitch?

In many ways, that's how it felt being in the Pit on Friday (March 13) for the Girls 2A State Championship between No. 1 Peñasco and No. 2 Mescalero Apache.

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sports

View from an empty Pit

Posted

Have you ever been in a building so empty that the buzz of electric lights hanging above you have a deafening pitch?

In many ways, that's how it felt being in the Pit on Friday (March 13) for the Girls 2A State Championship between No. 1 Peñasco and No. 2 Mescalero Apache.

There were no fans in the arena -- not even a glimpse.

Those fans who did make their way to the Pit near the University of New Mexico watched the game from outside on a television that a parent of a Mescalero Apache player had bought and set up in his car's trunk outside in the parking lot.

On Wednesday evening (March 11), the New Mexico Activities Association announced that fans and media would be barred from attending for the remainder of the tournament due to the state governor's mandate to limit mass gatherings to no more than 100 people in on of several actions taken to prevent the spread of a coronavirus.

That is, until I complained. I'm not sure if my telling my editor, Staci Matlock, that I was frustrated that I drove down all that way from Taos to cover basketball was the catalyst or not, but it sure seemed like it.

By Friday morning, the NMAA and New Mexico Press Association had worked in conjunction to get in at least a few reporters -- and I was among them.

There were two reporters allowed per game, so I worked alongside Geoff Grammar from the Albuquerque Journal -- who looked just as off-put as I did about the whole situation.

The NMAA had a strict guideline of 100 people in the building at any time. I had gotten there at 4 p.m. -- an hour before tipoff. I had to exit the building and come back 30 minutes later to make sure I didn't put the NMAA over the number of allowed people inside.

When I first walked in, I had seen the Peñasco girls walking to their locker room. I overheard one of the players say joyfully, "Hey, look the Taos News made it."

The Lady Panthers started to warm up on the court before the Lady Chiefs. I could overhear most small conversations going on, and especially when it came game time.

By the start, I could hear the words first-year head coach Mandy Montoya was telling her team to prepare them for what was going to be one of the biggest games of their lives.

She had a sense of total focus, Montoya did. Her players, for the most part, did, too.

By the time the game had gotten underway, it didn't have this official feeling for me. Maybe it was because I wasn't at Peñasco's home gymnasium, with the packed crowd screaming with joy at every right decision the team made on the floor.

Or maybe it was because the game didn't have a fast start to it. Then again, that might have been due to the nature of it all -- the emptiness of the arena and the world's concern with COVID-19.

Still, regardless of the situation, Montoya coached on. And her players continued to push through a unique situation.

While the Lady Panthers were able to manage a lead in the first half, the 3-ball killed them in the second half as Mescalero Apache went on to hit eight total.

Sometime in the second half, Montoya had called a timeout after a run by the Lady Chiefs. She sat her players down and gave them a look of urgency.

Montoya reiterated to her players a theme that has stuck around all season -- "This is not their story, this is your story."

After hearing that, you'd think that Peñasco would break through. And in some ways, they were able to.

In the fourth quarter, Adrianna Tafoya and Martina Tafoya helped lead a 7-0 run to charge back within striking distance, but a Mescalero Apache 8-2 run halted that and made it 63-50 late in the frame.

I can't help but think that one of the reasons Peñasco wasn't able to mount that comeback is because there was no loud crowd to uplift them - fans cheering at each correct play made, each turnover forced.

Adrianna Tafoya, in the postgame presser, wasn't thrilled by the outcome. Time and again, she expressed her frustration with having no fans out there on the court.

Montoya agreed.

"I think it's tough, especially for small communities like us that really rely on the fan support," Montoya said of playing in an empty arena.

I agree. There was something off about it all. It didn't feel like a championship.

It didn't feel like a game, even.

It felt like practice. And for that, I can sympathize with Peñasco - and even Mescalero Apache.

Both teams deserved an audience. And the fans deserved to be there, too.

But in the end, safety is a top priority.

At least now I can say I have had a once-in-a-lifetime experience, truly.

Matthew Narvaiz, sports editor for the Taos News and former sports reporter with the University of New Mexico Daily Lobo, grew up in Albuquerque.

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