Lady Panthers summit the apex of the fall sports world

First place in state, first place in districts make this Peñasco's day


Success came in the form of two historic wins for the Peñasco Lady Panthers Nov. 4.

First, in dominating fashion, the Lady Panthers reclaimed their crown as state champions in cross country at Rio Rancho High School. Then, a mere ten hours later, Peñasco would claim the District 5-2A title in volleyball at Escalante High School in Tierra Amarilla.

Imagine if you will, the elation of winning a second consecutive state title – the third in your school's long history – then quickly loading up into your bus after the awards are passed out to travel home. Only this time, the bus driver decided to take the scenic tour – a 150-mile route change through Tierra Amarilla with a two-and-a-half hour layover. Oh, and by the way, a uniform change as well, and another form of physical exertion – a five set volleyball match against the regular season champions on their home court. Not to mention it has been a very long time since your school has been a contender in this respective sport.

Ultimately, it was more than a 350-mile round trip on a bus and two very important wins. It was overcoming obstacles like physical, mental and spiritual fatigue to show the world Peñasco girls are truly tough athletes.

From October 25, 2012 to September 28, 2017, the Lady Panthers had not won a district game. It was a 40-game losing streak that seemed to have no end in sight. Even this year looked like it was going to be a bust for the Lady Panthers, who started the 2017 season with an 0-8 record and were tasked with playing the mighty Mora Rangerettes – who were coming off a state championship in 2016 – in their first district game. The 3-2 win at home broke the spell for Peñasco, and the team – led by Coach InezAnna Gonzales – would go on to win an additional eight games to finish the regular season at 9-14 overall. In districts, the Lady Panthers' talent finally revealed itself and earned the team a spot among the top teams in the league – tied with Questa and Escalante at 6-3. Due to offsetting wins and losses, Escalante and Peñasco would end up as the top two teams and would have to settle the tiebreaker on a neutral court (played at Mesa Vista High School) Oct. 30. The Lady Lobos would prevail – winning 3-0 – and in the process, gained home court advantage and a bye to the finals of the district tournament. A semi-final win over the Questa Lady Cats Nov. 2 at Jicarita Gym in Peñasco set up the rematch.

This time it was Peñasco who would end up victorious. It was an up-and-down affair with the Lady Panthers winning sets two, four and five.

The win in Escalante was preceded by the state championship title garnered by a Lady Panthers cross-country team that featured six athletes who also play volleyball. As a team, Peñasco scored 32 points with Carly Gonzales placing first, Maricela MacAuley placing third, Adrianna Tafoya coming in fifth, Estrella Gonzalez placing 11th and Martina Tafoya coming in 12th. The second place team was from Cloudcroft, who had 86 points. The third place finisher was Hagerman with 88 points.

On the boys' side, Gilbert “Gilly” Valdez was the sole runner for the Panthers, and came in eighth in his inaugural run at the state meet.