A second state title for Peñasco leads year of sports

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The year was a prosperous one for many Taos County teams.

It was a pinnacle year for four separate sports programs that came away with the coveted blue trophy. Two of those teams held up three-peat signs, while one returned after a one-year absence — and the other marked only the second title for its school in all of history. We’ll examine those storylines in a minute. In the meantime, here’s a rundown of all the big sports moments of 2016.

Above .500

The 2016 sports season had its share of winning seasons and league championships as well. Of the team sports that track wins and losses, there were a total of six teams that could boast a winning season based on winning percentage. Questa Wildcats baseball walked off with a 14-11 season and a 10th straight appearance at the state tournament, but lost its longtime coach, Cruz Chavez. Taos Tigers baseball went 18-11 – a five-win improvement from the previous year. Taos Lady Tigers basketball ended a transition year at 17-13 and made it to WisePies Arena, aka “The Pit,” to face a perennial powerhouse from the northwest. Taos Lady Tigers soccer kept up their winning ways by managing a 12-6-1 overall record – even with the expansion of the district that saw several private schools from Santa Fe enter in 2016. Coach Michelle Spears did a fantastic job at the helm of the Questa Lady Cats volleyball team, which stood toe to toe with the likes of the eventual state 2A champions Mora Rangerettes – garnering a 12-9 record in her second year.

District titles

As for the other team sports that don’t carry wins and losses, seven teams brought home district championship trophies and/or banners. On the girls’ side, the Questa Lady Cats track and field team captured the District 5-2A title at Escalante High School April 29. One week later, the Taos Lady Tigers won their respective district title at home – capturing their third straight title and qualifying in 15 events to advance to the state meet. The Taos Tigers girls golf team rounded out the spring sports with a District 2-A/4A title May 2. In the fall, both the Taos Lady Tigers and Peñasco Lady Panthers would claim their respective district titles and would go on to win their respective state titles.

Only two boys teams would claim district championships in Taos County in 2016. The Taos Tigers wrestling team won the District 2-4A title during the District Duals Tournament in Robertson Feb. 4 and would eventually qualify 12 individual wrestlers for state competition. The boys track and field team completely dominated the district meet in Taos May 6 to claim yet another championship. This accomplishment would soon be overshadowed by a state title May 14 – the team’s third consecutive state championship.

Head coaching carousel

In early February, coaching changes began among various teams. Three schools saw at least one departure and a turnover of duties to a new head coach or interim head coach.

Taos Lady Tigers softball announced the hiring of Camille Rivera mere weeks before the start of the 2016 season — after Dominic Martinez announced his resignation in early January. Martinez, who resigned his position as girls basketball coach at Taos Middle School, said it was due to his extra duties as Taos County’s director of emergency management and E911/dispatch. Rivera, a 2011 graduate of Taos High School, also served as part-time trainer for the Taos Tiger athletics department. Henry Lopez left his post in late March after 13 years at the helm of the Peñasco Panthers baseball team. Lopez, frustrated with the Panthers’ limited practice times, turned over the head coaching job to volunteer assistant Joel Sherman — who has coached for decades and brings an extensive résumé to the program.

The Taos Lady Tigers basketball team, which was under the direction of interim head coach Benny Mitchell for the majority of the 2015-2016 season, hired David Sanchez to take over for outgoing coach Robert Trujillo. The hiring came after a four-month search that attracted many candidates. Prior to his hiring, Sanchez served as an assistant for the Lady Tigers and was the head coach for the Peñasco Lady Panthers from 2009 to 2012. In Questa, coach Cruz Chavez II stepped down as head coach of the Questa Wildcats boys basketball and baseball teams. In basketball, Chavez was replaced by Tomas Madrid, who currently has a 4-2 record. In baseball, Chris Padilla took over the program and will lead the heavily favored Wildcats in District 4-A/2A. Monica Archuleta was tapped in early spring to lead the Questa Lady Cats basketball team as well, taking over for Miguel Romero.

Over the summer, a major shake-up took place with the sudden departure of Jesus Maes, Questa’s athletics director (AD) and head football coach, who was set to begin his fifth season with a veteran Wildcat team when he was selected to become the head coach for the Española Sundevils June 30. In the wake of Maes’ short-notice abandonment, Paul Passino was pegged to take over both the AD and head football coach positions. In Peñasco, Gilbert Mascareñas was hired to be the head basketball coach for the Lady Panthers, taking over for Clarence Vigil.

Records meant to be broken

In a remarkable display of athleticism that one might never witness in a lifetime of viewing sports, it was a tale of two Isaiahs making history in Northern New Mexico that tops the list. Track stars Daniel Isaiah Babb and Isaiah Rodarte seemingly glided to victory in their respective events in 2016.

Babb cleared 6 feet, 6 inches in the high jump as the sun went down on May 6 to yank the Taos High record from his mentor and witness, Ernie Martinez. In state competition, Babb would also claim another school record in the triple jump with a distance of 46 feet, 2.75 inches and assert himself as one of the most accomplished track athletes to come out of Taos.

Rodarte left no doubt about his superior skill in the middle-distance and long-distance runs as he smashed three state records at the state meet May 6 and May 7. In the 800-meter run, he ran a 1:58.35 to edge out the previous record holder by .18 seconds. Rodarte ran the 1,600-meter run in 4:30.59 and the 3,200-meter run in 9:49.52 to claim his stake as the current best ever in 2A.

For the ladies, Pamela Romero, from Taos, broke the school record in the pole vault with a jump of 8 feet during the district meet in Taos May 6. Cora Cannedy bested the school record in the girls 1,600-meter run, which was previously held by Hanna Gunther, at the state meet on May 13 with a time of 5:21.27.

Taos cheer team wins again

It was a come-from-behind win at WisePies Arena April 2 that gave the Taos cheer team its third straight state title. Defending their back-to-back titles made this year’s competition a pressure-packed scene that capped several months of preparation. The current roster of cheerleaders is vying for a fourth title this coming spring.

Basketball programs down

Save for the Taos Lady Tigers, all Taos County teams had a down year with none of the teams from Peñasco or Questa finishing with a winning record. The Taos Tigers boys team also slipped in their respective class and league, finishing with a 9-17 overall record and winless in district play.

Track runs the table

The boys’ reign continued in 4A as they brought home another blue trophy to add to their collection. Winning by more than 22 points against some very strong teams this year, the Tigers handed coach Benny Mitchell a third state team championship to go along with his District 2-4A coach of the year awards and the many individual titles.

There were many storylines in the success of the Tigers this year, but none were bigger than the feats realized by the aforementioned Babb. His athletic success will certainly be ranked at or near the top of the all-time greatest achievements in Taos Tiger history.

This year alone, Babb posted qualifying marks in eight events at state. Limited by rule to participation in five events, Babb competed in three jumping events and two hurdle races and came away with three first-place medals, one second-place medal and a third-place medal — a total of 30 points.

Seniors Jacob Pacheco, Carlos Ruiz and Matthew Gonzales provided leadership and points for the Tigers as well this year, along with a vast team of individual speedsters, like freshman Jonah Vigil and junior Ryan McCarty. The Taos Tigers led this year’s state meet from the very beginning to the very end and never relented.

Final four for Taos baseball

Another Taos coach receiving the coach of the year award in District 2-4A was Miguel Quintana — instrumental in bringing exciting baseball moments to fans who came out in large numbers to see the Tigers in action in 2016.

The Tigers earned a district championship and received a No. 4 seed in the state tournament, welcoming Hatch Valley to Cardenas Field in the first round of the Class 4A playoffs. After winning the series 2-0, the Tigers moved on to the quarterfinals in Rio Rancho and thumped Robertson 17-1. Advancing to the semifinals, the Tigers would end their late-season run, losing to Sandia Prep 9-6.

The Tigers lose five seniors this year, but reload with returners at key positions and are optimistic about their chances to get even further next year.

Tigers golf made huge gains

A program on the upswing, the 2016 girls golf team set the bar high with convincing regular-season wins and a good showing at state. The girls will face future challenges in the wake of senior Jade Evans’ departure, whose impact on girls golf in Taos will be felt for years to come.

Evans led Taos to a state berth after the team won two qualifying legs and won the district meet with a team qualifying score. The Tigers placed sixth at the state meet in Roswell in a two-day event May 9 and May 10.

Currently, Taos has a six-girl roster, as twins Taylor and Madison Tomashot have teamed up with returners Caitlin Tafoya and Makayla Montoya. Newcomers Daisy Kirshbaum and Veronica Montoya join a confident team that has set a goal of repeating as district champions and gaining another state berth.

Sophomore Josh Fambro made it to the state championships as well. Fambro placed seventh at state and is poised to become a top golfer in his respective class next year as a sophomore.

Taos tennis ends season prematurely

Coach Kurt Edelbrock and his tennis squads put together a competitive regular-season schedule in 2016 and were hoping to make some noise at the state tournament this year. Knocked out of contention due to inclement weather and a decision not to proceed with the district tournament, the girls team did not participate in postseason play this year.

In team competition, the boys ended their season at state losing to the Bosque High School Bobcats, the eventual state champions in Class A/4A.

Questa Lady Cats make huge strides

The Questa Lady Cats ended up finishing in eighth place as a team among fellow 2A competitors at this year’s state track and field meet in Albuquerque May 6 and May 7. The Lady Cats were led by the elite performance of Helena Padilla, who medaled in four events to cap off an outstanding season.

Individually responsible for 15 of the 17 total team points, Padilla also helped the 4x100 relay team secure fifth place in the event to round out her total points contribution. She finished first in the long jump with a distance of 16 feet, 7.5 inches and acquired a personal record in the process. Padilla also placed second in the triple jump and fourth in the 100-meter dash.

Taos Tigers football improves

Taos Tigers improved by one game from the previous year to go 6-5 overall in 2016. In the process, the Tigers advanced to the first round of the state playoffs and had seven players selected to the all-district team. Three seniors – Ryan McCarty, Johnny Montaño and Ronnie Salazar – were chosen to represent their school and their region in the North-South All-Star game in June 2017.

New sports editor

After more than a year as The Taos News sports editor, Gabriel Weinstein handed the sports coverage duties to this editor. Weinstein, a well-known community figure who completed his time at the end of April, decided to return to school to pursue a career as a history professor.

Story of the year

For just the second time in history, Peñasco Independent Schools came to own a state championship. It was a fitting end for a young team that worked extremely hard managing two sports during the same season (volleyball and cross-country) and holding off other teams vying for the cross-country title. The young squad was represented by Carly Gonzales, who came in second overall with a time of 20:38.75. Adrianna Tafoya was seventh overall with a time of 22:05.55. Charlyna Gonzales came in eighth place overall with a time of 22:12.20 – a whopping 1-minute, 32-second improvement from last year. The Gonzales sisters and Tafoya earned all-state honors with their respective top-10 finishes.

Rounding out the scorers for the Lady Panthers team were 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 Gonzalez was on the heels of Contreras, coming in 31st with a time of 24:25.40. Ariana MacAuley placed 32nd with a time of 24:39.30.

Exactly 35 years ago, the Peñasco boys basketball team, under the guidance of coach George Marquez, beat the Thoreau Hawks 101-95 to claim its first team state title.

Upon their return to Peñasco from the state meet, the Lady Panthers were escorted back into town with an impromptu parade of cars and service vehicles. A full victory parade was planned and executed Nov. 13.

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