In a repeat performance, the Taos Knighthawks Chess Club claimed top honors in the K-9 Division at the Northern Schools Chess League finals held at Santa Fe Prep High School Jan. 15. The team, consisting of Kian and Nitis Morgan, Jaimie Ritchie and Robbie Gersten racked up a 14-2 record to claim the championship. The league set a new record with 52 teams from Northern New Mexico showing up for the competition.
The K-9 team got off to a strong start with an easy 4-0 victory over Santa Fe Academy of Technology and Classics. In the second round, the team was held to a rare draw (2-2) with an up-and-coming team from Santa Fe Prep. After another easy 4-0 win against West Las Vegas High School, the team needed a perfect score in the last round to claim the title. Against the Santa Fe Indian School, they accomplished the sweep and cruised to a 4-0 victory.
“This is one of the strongest K-9 teams we’ve had in years,” said coach Dennis Hedges. “Our first board Kian Morgan was the third ranked player out of the over 200 players, including all the high schoolers. His brother Nitis on board two was also in the top five. Third board Robbie Gersten is presently ranked in the top five of eighth graders across the state. And Jaimie Ritchie was the top girl player overall at the meet.”
In other action, the Knighthawks K-6 team missed first place by a single game. Absent due to illness was their top board player, and the team was held to a draw in the first round.
In the second round Milo Maher, Jake Duncan, Perry Kushner and Sean Ritchie easily defeated the Los Alamos team and were paired up against the number one team in round three. Top board Ritchie got a strong opening against the section’s top player, but a mid-game blunder made the match closer than was expected. After Ritchie captured his opponent’s queen, he cruised to victory.
On board two, Perry Kushner also won his match, leading the team to victory. Unfortunately, the team couldn’t keep up their momentum, and lost the last round 1-3 – settling for third place.
In perhaps the biggest surprise of the tourney was the performance by the Vista Grande High School team. Fielding new players without much experience, 7th grader from Anansi Charter School, Mia vanWilligen, emerged to lead the team. The strategy paid off as they claimed a respectable third place tie among the 24 teams in their section. Team captain was River Trujillo, who was joined by Donevan Maestas, Hilario Sanchez, FayeRose Avatchoya, Jewels Romero and another young player from Anansi, Matisse Yven.
Next up will be the High School Individual Championships and the New Mexico State Championships/Qualifying Regionals where the club hopes to qualify a couple teams for the finals in April.