The Taos News sports editor shares his best front-row sports stories and his top-25 moments from this past school year.
25. Boys soccer beats St. Mike’s
Tyrone Green makes a surprise return to the team after a season-long hiatus due to injury and helps catapult the Tigers to an upset victory over the highly ranked Horsemen.
It was a homecoming that many people didn’t think was going to happen.
It was the return of senior forward Green, who had missed all prior games in the 2016 season due to injury that, perhaps, made the difference in Taos’ 3-1 win over the St. Michael’s Horsemen at Taos Eco Park Oct. 22.
The victory extended the Tigers’ win streak to three games to finish the regular season – a feat the Tigers hoped would have resulted in an invitation to the state tournament. The Tigers did not get into the state tournament and instead ended their season with a 7-9 overall record and 6-6 in district play.
24. Ice Tigers take home the North Star
Coach Mark Richert and his Ice Tigers hockey squad take back the coveted traveling trophy by beating the Los Alamos Hilltoppers 4-3 in a comeback for the ages at the Genoveva Chavez Community Center in Santa Fe March 10.
The first period of the Pure Division Championship saw an evenly played match between Taos and Los Alamos that produced no goals, but more shots on goal for Taos (13-10) and only one penalty.
The second period witnessed an aggressive LA team pound two goals past Taos’ defense to take a commanding lead. At the same time, Los Alamos’ goaltender, Sam Fisher, turned away several shots from the Ice Tigers until Taos’ Ysidro Gravelle finally powered one into the net at about the halfway mark. The Hilltoppers answered with another goal to close the first two stanzas with a 3-1 lead. Going into the intermission, the Ice Tigers had 33 shots on goal compared to 18 for LA.
In the third period, the Ice Tigers closed the deficit and eventually passed the Hilltoppers to claim the title at the neutral site by a score of 4-3 March 10.
The team’s hard work for the entire game resulted in a stunning come-from-behind win for the Ice Tigers and the return of the North Star Trophy and Río Grande Cup to Taos for the offseason – prompting coach Richert to remark, “We will sleep peacefully this summer with the North Star in our possession ... until the first crisp autumn evenings remind us that ice is on the way and it’s time to prove it all once again.”
23. Tafoya forces overtime
During Peñasco’s homecoming basketball game, Adrianna Tafoya hits a long-range three-point shot to force overtime against the powerhouse Mora Rangerettes.
A joyous, leaping Tafoya is swarmed by teammates as the crowd erupts after she hit a long-range shot at the buzzer to send the game into overtime. With 1.1 seconds left in the game and down by three points, Tafoya took the inbound pass and made a shot from well behind the three-point arc.
The game was a segment of Peñasco’s homecoming, but Mora was not the intended invitee. Due to snowstorms that closed schools throughout the area, Peñasco had to postpone the original date of its homecoming games and the team’s original opponent, the Coronado Leopards. Peñasco would eventually lose to the Rangerettes by a score of 70-67.
22. Lady Tigers beat St. Mike’s
In a game that produced 47 total runs, the Taos softball team beat the Lady Horsemen 24-23 in eight innings in the first game of the final home series of the season.
21. Golf championship plays just to halftime
Josh Fambro finishes fourth at state with a 75 in one-day golf shootout shortened by hail and freezing rain.
Making the trip to the state golf championships for the second consecutive year, sophomore Fambro did his best to bring home an individual title for Taos High School. The Class A/4A state tournament was held at Piñon Hills Golf Club in Farmington, which played host to more than 67 qualified men and women golfers May 8-9.
Ordinarily, the format used to determine the best golfers in the state is a 36-hole tournament played over the course of two days. Unfortunately, play was suspended on day two due to heavy rain and hail that made the course unplayable and was canceled May 9. Thus, champions for both the team and individual competitions were based on day one scores. As a result, Fambro earned a fourth-place medal with the three-over par, 75 he turned in May 8.
20. Taos downs Dons
Taos Tigers football team defeats the heavily favored West Las Vegas in home finale.
The Tigers played their last home game of the 2016 season and knocked off the fourth-ranked team in the state in Class 4A in the process. The West Las Vegas Dons came to Taos with a 6-1 overall record and 3-0 district in district play, but went home with an extra digit in each of those loss columns after an exciting night of football at Anaya Stadium that ended in a 30-27 win for the Tigers Oct. 21.
The implications of this win were enormous for the Tigers, who ended up with a 6-5 overall record and 4-2 in District 2-4A – giving them a one-game edge over the Dons and a No. 9 seed in the 2016 state football playoffs.
19. Drain the pasta
Justin Madrid hits the game-winning basketball shot with just fewer than 30 seconds left in the overtime period to lift the Questa Wildcats over the Mora Rangers in the third-place game of the Northern Río Grande tournament.The Wildcats hang on with solid defense the final 12.3 seconds and finally get the Mora monkey off their back.
18. Taos Lady Tigers reclaim crown
Coach Bruce Gomez wins his sixth team title of all time when the Lady Tigers garner a first place at the state cross-country championship meet in Rio Rancho Nov. 5.
It was probably a little closer than many people expected, but the Lady Tigers reclaimed the top spot in Class 4A with a nine-point win over the state runner-up team, East Mountain High School.
Led by Cora Cannedy, Taos showed true grit by keeping the talented and seasoned East Mountain team at bay. The Lady Timberwolves fielded a core group of scoring runners that included two juniors and three seniors. Taos finished with 48 total team points. The East Mountain Lady Timberwolves were second with 57 and the Shiprock Lady Chieftains – who were the defending state champions in Class 4A – came in third with 96 points.
Cannedy came in second overall with a time of 19:16.25. She was joined by Elizabeth Reyes, who placed second with a time of 19:29.35; Ella Katz, who came in 11th with a time of 20:20.85; Isabella Padilla, who placed 14th with a time of 20:51.05; and Abigail Gunther, who came in fifth for Taos and 25th overall with a time of 21:23.05.
“We ran hard,” said Gomez. “I was holding my breath for a while there, but our girls ran their hearts out. It was a pleasure to watch.”
Aaliyah Quintana hits the game winner against the Pojoaque Valley Elkettes with three seconds to go to in the Lady Tigers’ district basketball home opener at Otero Gymnasium Jan. 21. In an earlier game, Quintana hit 53 points in a record-breaking night for the junior guard.
16. Mount mounts charge, clinches state for Taos
Simon Mount finishes in fifth place in the boys 3,200-meter run with a time of 10:12.62 – earning two points in the process, thereby securing the fourth straight state title for the boys track and field team. Mount came into the race ranked No. 10.
15. Shot heard down Cervantes Road
Isaac Esquibel hits a buzzer-beater after receiving an inbound pass from Jude Suazo to defeat the Los Alamos Hilltoppers in basketball Jan. 10. Otero Gymnasium erupts.
A long pass from Suazo connected with Esquibel, who beautifully executed a lateral move to the left side of the court and dropped a three-point shot as the final buzzer sounded to win the game for the Tigers – 49-46. The exciting finish created an ear-popping roar from fans inside Otero Gym and a frenzied celebration in center court by Taos Tigers players.
14. Taos wrestlers win three state titles
Christopher Valencia, Diego Valerio and Estevan Valerio win individual titles at the New Mexico state wrestling tournament in Rio Rancho Feb. 17-18.
Valencia wrestled marvelously and overcame his higher-ranked opponent with speed and superior technique to pin Ricky Villalobos from Silver High School. The feat produced a groundswell of emotion that could not be contained by proud papa and coach Robert Valencia or the raucous Taos Tiger fans.
Valencia’s title was augmented by title wins by Diego Valerio in the 126-pound division and Estevan Valerio in the 182-pound division – giving coach Valencia three individual titles in 2016-17.
“Nothing was given to us,” said coach Valencia, who reiterated that his kids were due the credit. “We kept our focus and kept growing as a team. This is the outcome.”
13. Winning streak puts spotlight on Lady Panthers
Lady Panthers win 10 straight games to start basketball season.
A good deal of attention was given to the Peñasco Lady Panthers basketball team after it defeated the Pecos Lady Panthers in a come-from-behind win at the Northern Río Grande tournament Jan. 6. The win gave coach Gilbert Mascareñas, who was in his first year at the helm, a 10-0 overall record to start the 2016-17 season, making Peñasco one of the few remaining unbeaten girls teams in all classes in the state of New Mexico at the time.
When asked about how members of his team managed to stay at the top of their game, Mascareñas offered a candid perspective on his team’s success. “They never stopped working,” said Mascareñas, who coached many of the current players when they were coming up through the ranks.
He also reiterated that the character of this team has been in place for years. “This is like a dream team for a coach,” said Mascareñas, who also attributed the win streak to the depth of his bench. “My girls have a great team mentality.”
The streak ended when the Lady Panthers fell to the Mora Rangerettes the following day (Jan. 7) in the NRG championship game.
12. Make it a triple jump
Helena Padilla wins the triple jump at the state track and field championships in Albuquerque to go along with her long-jump title May 5-6.
Flying through the air – in a perfect combination of vertical angle and horizontal thrust – Padilla sliced through the mile-high zephyrs of University Stadium to defend one state title and to steal away another at the New Mexico track and field championships May 5-6. The results the senior athlete sought came to fruition with first-place medals in the girls long jump and the triple jump.
In the long jump, Padilla matched her top distance of exactly 16 feet, 7.5 inches from a year ago – when she won her first title in that event – to keep her crown. Padilla had been competing in the long jump since she was an eighth-grader and improved in distance and place every year – except this past state performance, where she had already attained the pinnacle.
In the triple jump, she bounded to a personal best of 34 feet, 6.5 inches on her fourth attempt to claim the state title. Though Padilla only had two jumps that were greater than 34 feet, she was never in any danger from other athletes who would finish more than 1 foot behind the Questa Lady Cat.
With the 14 points gained by Padilla for both of her first-place finishes, the senior track star provided a majority of Questa’s total team haul of 17.
11. Cora outkicks
Cora Cannedy holds off Shiprock’s Khadija Lapahie with a blistering sprint to the finish line to win the girls 1,600-meter run at the state track and field championships in Albuquerque May 13.
For the majority of the 1,600-meter run, Cannedy seemed to be in control, harboring a comfortable lead at times and keeping pace with the lead pack at other times. The race came down to Cannedy and Lapahie, who broke from the other runners on the final 300 meters. The competition then became a test of wills down the homestretch. Starting her “kick” near the 120-meter mark, Lapahie attempted to pass the Taos junior – prompting Cannedy to shift into high gear to hold her off and cross the finish line with a 1.15-second lead.
“I didn’t realize how close she [Lapahie] was until she kicked my foot,” said Cannedy, who owns the school record in this event. “But my coaches instructed me to save my kick until the 110-meter mark, so I wouldn’t die out. So I just trusted their plan and I waited for my spot, and then I gave it my all.”
10. Jonah by half a hair
Jonah Vigil won the boys 100-meter dash by a mere three one-thousandths of a second over Ruidoso’s LaVaughn Smooth. Vigil went on to also win the boys 400-meter dash by four one-hundredths of a second over defending champ Brandon Chavez from Silver High School.
9. Falcons honored
The team was recognized at a 50-year reunion banquet of champions March 10 and on the floor of “The Pit” March 11.
Fifty years to the day and in front of a mixed crowd of Pecos and Santa Rosa fans, members of the Taos Central Catholic High School Falcons basketball team stepped onto the hallowed tongue-in-groove floor of “The Pit” to be acknowledged for their one and only state championship title earned before the school’s eventual shuttering in 1967. The halftime ceremony was another fitting tribute to a fabulous team in a fabulous arena.
Earlier in the year, the Falcons were honored in front of the home crowd during the halftime of the Taos Tigers’ final home game. An extended halftime was granted for the ceremony, as warm words from Taos High School’s principal, Robert Trujillo, and athletic director, Nickie McCarty, set the stage for a community-wide commendation that included congratulations from the current Taos Tigers players.
Proclamations from the House of Representatives of the state of New Mexico signed by Roberto “Bobby” J. Gonzales and from Taos Mayor Dan Barrone were presented to the honorees along with certificates of acknowledgment from Taos High School.
8. Powell climbs the ladder
Faith Powell wins a third consecutive individual title in the high jump at the state track and field championships in Albuquerque May 12-13.
For the third straight year, Powell was the high jump champ, clearing a top height of 5 feet, 6 inches – matching her personal best in this event. The achievement was an improvement from last year, when she cleared a height of 5 feet, 2 inches to claim the 2016 state title.
Powell also won the long jump with a distance of 17 feet, 8 inches – her personal best and a new Taos High School record.
She also garnered a second-place medal in the triple jump, where she also achieved her personal best in the event with a long-step distance of 36 feet, 4 inches – a 30-inch improvement from a year ago.
Powell was responsible for 22 points on the weekend.
7. Reyes gets her gold
Elizabeth Reyes throws her arms up in the air as she crosses the finish line in the girls 3,200-meter run at the state track and field championships in Albuquerque, earning her first high school (individual) state title.
Reyes, a senior distance runner for the Taos Lady Tigers, had yet to win an individual state title in her high school career. But on May 12, a determined Reyes was not going to be denied a first-place medal. In the 3,200-meter run, she charged to the front of the pack in the grueling eight-lap race – building and maintaining a lead that her fellow competitors could not match. The result was a seemingly easy win with an insurmountable 20-second gap between her and the second-place finisher. Reyes’ time of 11:48.08 was her personal best and came despite a slight headwind from the south that greeted runners on the homestretch inside the host stadium. Photographer David Jacobs captured Reyes’ iconic pose as she crossed the finish line as champion.
6. Coach Bruce Gomez tapped
The National High School Athletic Coaches Association announces the advancement of Bruce Gomez from Taos High School as a finalist for the national coach of the year in the sport of cross-country.
Eight finalists from across the nation will be honored during the National Coach of the Year Awards Banquet, which will take place at the National High School Athletic Coaches Association’s national convention in East Peoria, Illinois, June 21. The highlight of the banquet will be the naming of the NHSACA national coach of the year in 19 recognized sports categories.
Gomez was selected for this national honor by New Mexico’s High School Coaches Association. This selection was based on longevity, service to high school athletics, honors, championship years and winning percentage. The nominees and finalists are evaluated by experts in the field of coaching using a sport-specific rubric to assign points in each category. The National High School Athletic Coaches Association is the oldest coaches association in the nation formed by coaches – for coaches – and has been recognizing national coaches of the year since 1978.
Coach Gomez, a 1974 Taos High School graduate, was inducted into the New Mexico High School Track and Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Fame Jan. 23, 2016. In 2014, Gomez was named “coach of the year” by the New Mexico Coaches Association.
Gomez’s most recent state title came at the 2016 state cross-country championships with the Taos Lady Tigers, claiming the top spot in Rio Rancho Nov. 5, 2016.
5. Taos boys get their fourth team title
For the fourth time in a row, the Taos Tiger boys track and field team claimed a state title, responding to the coaches who asked the team’s members to give everything they could – on a day when they needed it the most and on the biggest stage.
4. Taos cheer dominates
Taos Tigers cheer team wins its fourth state title in a row in Class 4A at the state cheer championships in Albuquerque March 25.
The cumulative score for the Tigers over the course of two days and two routines was an impressive 177.38 points. Taos was second only to the 6A Mayfield Trojans, who finished with 177.67 points in their respective class. Taos was in the lead after their initial performance March 24 when they accrued 92.60 points – trailed by the Rams (88.27), Pojoaque Valley Elkettes (75.93), Hope Christian (75.43), Ruidoso Warriors (73.33) and Robertson Cardinals (69.70).
Day two saw the Tigers execute their routine flawlessly, impressing the judges with solid stunts and a stunning pyramid that ignited the Tiger fans in attendance. “Once we completed that final pyramid, I knew that was it,” said Lisa Abeyta-Valerio, whose exuberance was on full display on the Taos sideline. “I was so excited for my team, and I knew there was no stopping us at that point.”
3. Where’s the cowbell?
Tournament prize goes missing during championship game in Ratón.
After the Lady Panthers swept through the annual “Cowbell Tournament,” a snub of sorts occurred when the new champions were denied the opportunity to touch, hoist, ring or bring their traveling trophy home to Peñasco. Propped up on the scorers table at Ratón High School at the beginning of the basketball championship game between the Lady Panthers and the Cimarrón Lady Rams Dec. 10, the small brass prize vanished when it looked like the game was well in hand for Peñasco.
Inquiries into the disappearance of the fully functional trophy found that the cowbell was removed from its display table when administrators were confident the Lady Panthers were going to win the championship game. Tournament officials claimed a verbal agreement was in place that disqualified any Peñasco team from possessing the cowbell or participating in the cowbell tradition.
The tradition reads: “When a team with the Cowbell played any other league team, the Cowbell was put on the block – placing the prize up-for-grabs by the winner of that game, who would take the trophy home and keep it until the next game against another league opponent. The school with the Cowbell at the end of basketball season had its name engraved on the trophy and kept it until the next season.”
Peñasco coaches and administrators denied knowledge of the agreement to exclude their teams from possessing the trophy.
The girls’ cowbell was deemed “out of commission” in 2016-17 by Randy Casper, tournament director and Springer athletics director. When it was certain that the Peñasco Lady Panthers would win the championship game, the trophy was packed away. Since the Springer Lady Red Devils stayed with the cowbell at the end of last season, it stayed with Springer for the remainder of the 2016-17 season to finish out its decommissioned year.
2. Questa cheer team ends drought
Questa Wildcats win their first state title in Class 2A, going wire to wire at the state cheer championships in Albuquerque March 25.
Over the loudspeaker, the announcer barely started to utter the first syllable of the word “Questa” before shrills bellowed from the southwest corner of “The Pit” March 25, for it was absolutely known that the Wildcats were state champions. Finally, the rush was on for the blue, silver and white cheer team – a sprint stampede to retrieve the squad’s blue trophy.
The Questa Wildcats, who finished with 157.44 total points, met expectations and fulfilled their goal of garnering the top spot in the state in Class A/2A with a wire-to-wire showing at this year’s spirit competition – besting the second-place Lordsburg Mavericks (133.99), Magdalena Steers (124.93), Floyd Broncos (121.21) and Fort Sumner Vixens (117.63).
Sheer elation was the mood once the coveted prize was securely in hand.
In recent years, the Wildcats had come close to winning a title multiple times. Three consecutive third-place trophies, followed by two second-place finishes, had been the results Questa attained under the tutelage of coach Kathy Gonzales. And so, the hope for a No. 1 had become a reality with nine months of grit, polished into six minutes of synchronized exactness – thus ending a 23-year championship drought and granting Questa a second state title in its long sports history.
Along with the team prize, the girls received individual medals and a welcome-home parade when they returned to Questa March 26.
1. Lady Panthers win state
For only the second time in Peñasco Independent School District history, one of its interscholastic teams wins a state title. The Lady Panthers cross-country team wins its first state championship at Rio Rancho Nov. 5.
In post-race comments, coach Ben Sanchez was all smiles as he fielded questions between hugs and high fives. “Our girls were ready for the course. I was confident that we could do it,” said Sanchez, who prior to this title owned five second- and five third-place finishes in state competition. “This means a lot to me, to the girls and to the community.”
The order of the top runners for Peñasco was Carly Gonzales, coming in second overall with a time of 20:38.75; Adrianna Tafoya, who came in seventh overall with a time of 22:05.55; Charlyna Gonzales, who placed eighth with a time of 22:12.20; Jennifer Aguilar, who placed 16th with a time of 23:07.15; and Bianca Contreras, who came in 30th with a time of 24:23.30.
Estrella Gonzales was on the heels of Contreras, coming in 31st with a time of 24:25.40, and Ariana MacAuley placed 32nd with a time of 24:39.30. As a team, Peñasco led with 49 total points, followed by Jemez Valley with 88 and Ramah High School, which came in third as a team with 98 points.
The Gonzales sisters and Tafoya earned all-state honors with their respective top-10 finishes.
The win earned the girls a homecoming caravan when the team returned home from state Nov. 5 and a victory parade Nov. 12.
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