As the ice on the Rio Fernando begins to crack and thaw, the memories of the 2017-18 winter prep sports begin to flow downward into the annals of history as well. For some, it's time to hang up the ol' sneakers for good. For others, it's time to go play outside.
All six basketball teams, wrestling, swimming and ice hockey have completed their respective seasons in Taos County. Two teams were still on the courts: the Taos Tigers boys' basketball team played in the Class 4A quarterfinals against the Moriarty Pintos March 7 and the Peñasco Lady Panthers basketball team played earlier today in the Class 2A semifinals.
Here is a recap of the accomplishments of the interscholastic winter sports teams from Taos County in 2017-18.
Taos Lady Tigers Basketball
For second-year coach, David Sanchez, the sophomore jinx was on as the Lady Tigers struggled to put together any sustained win streaks, or adequately defend their home court throughout the various segments of the season.
In nearly every category - overall wins and losses, district wins and losses, points made and points allowed - Taos fared worse this year than in the 2016-17 season.
The Lady Tigers finished the season with a 7-20 (.259 win percentage) overall record and a 1-7 district record. Taos scored a total of 1,006 points on the season (37.3 points per game), making them the fifth worst team in Class 4A in scoring. At the same time, the Lady Tigers yielded 1,366 (50.6 points per game) total points to their opponents, placing them in the bottom eight in points allowed.
Key wins, however, included a 52-49 victory over the Santa Fe Indian School Lady Braves Dec. 12 (who finished the season ranked sixth in Class 4A and won their first-round game in state tourney play March 2), and a 60-39 win over Class 5A Los Alamos Jan. 9. Another highlight for Taos was the invitation to the state basketball tournament as a number 15 seed. This occurred despite a ten-game losing streak to finish the regular season.
The Lady Tigers lose seniors Alexia Trujillo, Aaliyah Quintana and Vanessa Estrada to graduation this year.
Questa boys basketball
Mired in a negative narrative to begin the season, the Questa Wildcats never gained traction after they lost their head coach and key players in early October 2017.
In a surprise move, and due to reasons still unknown, Tomas Madrid was fired from his position as head coach - a mere two-and-a-half weeks before the official start of the 2017-18 season.
Questa superintendent, David Albert indicated that the position was "at-will," and no reason was necessary to remove Madrid from his post. Miguel Romero was hired to replace Madrid shortly after the personnel action was completed.
Due to the shake-up, former Wildcats Justin Madrid and Allen Martinez moved to Taos and joined the Taos Tigers' roster.
With only three seniors on the team, and the entire roster having little or no previous varsity experience, the Wildcats floundered in both the regular season and district tournament. Questa finished 2-24 overall and 0-8 in district play. Garnering a total of 1,002 points (38 points per game) on the season, the Wildcats were tied for fourth with the fewest points scored among Class 2A teams.
As the fifth seed in the league, Questa traveled to Peñasco to play in the opening round of the District 5-2A tournament, losing 70-62 to record the closest margin of defeat all season Feb. 20.
The Wildcats lose three seniors to graduation in May. Isaac Martinez, Jonathan Rivera and Antonio Chavez will pass the torch to an up-and-coming squad in 2018-19.
Peñasco boys basketball
In his first stint as a head basketball coach, Brandon Gurule took over a boys program in Peñasco that had endured seven straight losing seasons. In the past two seasons under former head coach, Tim Pacheco, the Panthers were 7-19 in each season. This year, Peñasco only mustered seven wins again, ending the 2017-18 campaign 7-20 overall and 2-6 in district play.
Gurule was one of four new coaches leading their respective teams in district 5-2A. New on the scene was Miguel Romero in Questa, Carlos Arellano in Mora and Benito Maestas in Mesa Vista.
A key feature to the change in leadership was the dramatic improvement in made baskets compared to last year's team. In 2016-17, the Panthers scored 1,115 total points for an average of 42.7 points per game. This year Peñasco's scoring swelled to 1,487 for an average of 55 points per game. The jump in point production was due in part to three seniors on the Panther's roster: Matt Lopez, Ernie Lopez and Billy Rodarte.
A recurring weakness for Gurule's squad this season was its inability to shut down teams. The Panthers were dead last in points allowed in Class 2A, yielding a whopping 1,942 total points this season to opponents for a 72-point-per-game average.
Giovanni Rodarte is the only other senior on the Panther's roster and will graduate with the other three in May.
Taos Tigers swimming
The countless hours that Coach Alfredo Aleman spends working with kids of all ages at the Taos Youth and Family Center swimming pool is starting to pay off. As athletes in the Taos Tiger Shark swimming club are starting to "age in" to the interscholastic program, results are starting to show on final score sheets and the podium.
The Taos Tigers boys and girls swim teams have begun to realize positive outcomes as they navigate their way through their seven-meet schedule that takes them to places like Los Alamos, Santa Fe and Albuquerque.
For the first time in five years, the Taos Tigers swim team made an appearance at the state swimming championships. And for the first time since 2011, swimmers from Taos qualified to swim in the finals of their respective events on day two of the showcase event.
This year, nine Taos swimmers made the trip, making it a first for Aleman who has been at the helm since the 2014-15 season.
Swimmers making the trip to state included Hunter Griego, Diego Griego, Alejandro Esparza, Estevan Salazar, Nathan Hernandez, Gracie Goler, Margot Goler, Ashley McMains and Mikaela Dunnam.
On the boys' side, Nathan Hernandez placed 15th in the 100-yard butterfly with a time of 56.16 and 13th in the 200-yard freestyle with a time of 1:50.60. Hernandez also was part of the boys 400-yard freestyle relay, made up of Hunter Griego in the first leg, Salazar in the second leg, Diego Griego in the third spot and Hernandez in the anchor position. The team placed 16th overall with a time of 3:40.82.
The girls also made it into the finals round in the 200-yard relay and finished 14th with a time of 1:49.60. The order of the relay team was Dunnam in the first position, Margot Goler in the second spot, Gracie Goler in the third position and McMains anchoring the team.
McMains also competed in the girls 50-yard freestyle and came in 13th overall with a time of 26.31-seconds, a personal best for the Taos High School junior.
Outgoing seniors on the team include Margot Goler, Natalie Solis and Alejandro Esparza.
Taos Tigers wrestling
The Taos Tiger wrestling team cobbled together a brilliant season despite several obstacles along the way toward their historic finish. Injuries, weight changes, suspensions and concerted efforts by other teams vying to topple the Tigers made the 2017-18 season especially challenging for Coach Robert Valencia and company.
The Tigers followed their usual schedule that took them to each edge or corner of the state and beyond. Taos competed at home and in the New Mexico towns of Bloomfield, Tucumcari, Silver City and Las Vegas plus traveled to Colorado for meets in Pagosa Springs, Pueblo, and Trinidad.
Perpetually trailing the Robertson Cardinals this past season in points and rank, Taos was finally able to catch their nemesis at the state championships in Rio Rancho Feb. 17, ending a 29-year drought for Taos, which brought home consecutive state titles as a team in 1988 and 1989. As a team, the Tigers snatched the third-place trophy from the Cardinals by a single point, 153-152.
Individual state champions for Taos included Tyler Valencia, who claimed the state title in the 132-pound division, and Jesse Ayala, who won the individual title in the 220-pound division.
History was made at this year's meet as the first-ever girls wrestling tournament debuted, featuring female competitors from the state in eight divisions. Collectively, the two girls who competed for Taos - Elisha and AnnaLiz Duran - scored enough points to earn a third place as a team as well. AnnaLiz came in third place in the girl's 106-pound division. Elisha claimed the title in the 131-pound division.
For Coach Valencia, it was his second consecutive year that at least three of his wrestlers came out on top.
No trophies were awarded to girls teams; however, all participants were given commemorative medals to mark the event.
Elisha Duran, Diego Valerio, Morgan Thompson, Angelus Sanchez and Enrique Vigil were the seniors on the team and will graduate in May.
Taos Ice Tigers hockey
The Taos Ice Tigers finished their season with one win and two losses at the yearend tournament held at the Genoveva Chavez Community Center in Santa Fe March 2-3. Unfortunately, the final loss came at the hands of the Los Alamos Hilltoppers who grabbed the North Star trophy back and will keep it until the next season.
Taos went into the final tourney with an 8-10-2 overall record as the fifth seed in the New Mexico Interscholastic Ice Hockey League composite standings. Taos won its opening game against the La Cueva Bears, 6-4, earning the Ice Tigers a date with the top team in the league, the Cibola Cougars in the semi-finals.
Cibola would run roughshod over Taos, winning 5-1, and sending the Ice Tigers to the losers' bracket in the double-elimination tourney format. This meant another showdown with the sixth seed, Los Alamos, who would come away with the razor-thin 6-5 victory.
Ordinarily, a "pure division" game is played after the "composite division" tournament concludes, meaning players exclusively from the Los Alamos School District and Taos Municipal School District are placed on each team's respective rosters to determine a pure champion. This year, both teams picked up players from the now defunct Santa Fe team, deeming each roster "composite." As of press time, no pure championship game is scheduled to take place.
Seniors on the Ice Tigers roster include: Justin "Juice" Lucero, Robbie Wooldridge, Forest Rach, Dwyer Wadsworth Lujan and Sage Beaman.
Questa girls basketball
Marking one of the biggest turnarounds this year were the Questa Lady Cats who improved in several categories to garner a second place in District 5-2A and a state tournament berth.
Led by first-year coach, Steve Rael, the Lady Cats ended their 2017-18 run with a 13-16 overall and 4-4 district record, improving by 11 games from the year before when Questa finished 2-20 and 0-8.
Several accomplishments dotted the Lady Cats' season, including wins over Mora, Escalante (twice), Springer, Cimarron and (Class 4A) Thoreau.
This season, Questa scored a total of 1,268 points - 512 more points this year compared to last year when they pumped in a meager 756. And although there were fewer games played in 2016-17, the improved point production translated to 43.7 points per game this year versus 34.4 points per game last year.
An unusual quirk in the schedule set up the Lady Cats against the Peñasco Lady Panthers a total of five times in 2017-18. Due to the season finale and home court advantages for the Lady Panthers, Questa finished its final three consecutive games of the season inside Jicarita Peñasco Gymnasium.
The Lady Cats ended their winter sports season in the opening round of the Class 2A state basketball tournament against Peñasco, losing 72-46 to the No. 3 seed.
AnnaMarie Sanchez, Larissa Passino and Laura Mascareñas were the only seniors on the roster and will graduate this coming May.
Taos Tigers basketball
The end of the season came for (5) Taos Tigers basketball in 2017-18 at the Santa Ana Star Center March 7 at the hands of the (4) Moriarty Pintos, a familiar foe who toppled the Tigers three times this season.
The 49-42 loss ended a seven-game win streak Taos enjoyed since losing to the West Las Vegas Dons Jan. 24. It was also the lowest point production for the Tigers in a year in which average scoring hovered in the 66-points-per-game range. The loss was a tough pill to swallow, especially for the seniors and coaches who helped turn around a floundering program that witnessed a 17-win improvement from last year.
Moving on to the semifinals, the Pintos would eventually fall to the Bernalillo Spartans, 61-39 March 9. Next year, Taos and Moriarty will be in the same district, essentially moving to an expanded Class 4A that will include several 5A teams from this year’s list. The two teams will join Pojoaque Valley, Los Alamos and Española to become the new District 2-4A.
Martinez, Jude Suazo, Colin Russell, and Santiago “Saint” Cortez made the long, last walk off the elevated court. The four upperclassmen will graduate in May.
Taos finished the season with an 18-11 (.620 win percentage) overall record. The Tigers garnered both the regular-season title and district tournament championship. Coach Nando Chavez was named the District 2-4A Coach of the Year for 2017-18.
Lady Panthers basketball
Gilbert Mascareñas, who is in his second year as head coach, led his third-ranked squad to the Class 2A championship game by beating (14) Questa Lady Cats in the opening round, (6) Magdalena Lady Steers in the quarterfinals and (7) Lordsburg Lady Mavericks in the semifinals. In his two years at the helm, Mascareñas amassed a 44-16 record (.733 win percentage), which included this year’s fortuitous walk down the storied ramp of “The Pit” for a chance to win a title.
The loss ended a 14-game win streak the Lady Panthers have enjoyed since falling to the Robertson Lady Cardinals Jan. 10. Peñasco finished its stellar 2017-18 season with a 26-5 (.838 win percentage) overall record. Estrella “Star” Gonzalez is the lone senior on the roster who will be graduating in May.
The runner-up trophy garnered by this particular team – in this particular sport – is yet another achievement the Lady Panthers can add to their 2017-18 collection. Earlier in the school year, the same athletes also helped win a Class 2A cross-country title (a second consecutive state crown), and on the same day, the bulk of the same team grabbed a district title in volleyball.
Along with the rings, medals and trophies this team has acquired, this group of young women have demonstrated humility and grace with their outward gestures of respect and class. At the end of the Questa game (March 2), the two Taos County teams gathered hand-in-hand at the center of the court in solidarity, offering words of encouragement and an extra congratulatory hug.
The outward display of sportsmanship was the result of an organized effort by players and coaches to show support for each other. After the state championship game, Lopez stood before the large group of Peñasco fans and flashed “I love you” in sign language before heading to the locker room.
The move was a fantastic end to a great season of Northern New Mexico basketball.