There’s a lot that goes into the creation of a successful team. Besides all the physical work and strength conditioning, a team is like a living thing.
There’s a lot that goes into the creation of a successful team.
Besides all the physical work and strength conditioning, a team is like a living thing that must be fed, coddled, rested and given space to grow. From the start of a new sports season to the final play in the end, the formation, development and maintenance of a team requires hours and hours of supervision and preparation. Always, multiple coaches are required to directly facilitate this process, but often, so many other unknown variables come into play and a whole host of other things must happen for a team to garner a sports world “thumbs-up.”
Luck, chemistry, talent, momentum, drive, fan support, facilities, weather, injury, grades, money, nutrition and a whole host of unforeseen challenges sometimes test a team’s will. It’s those teams that find ways to tamp down those patchy unknowns that seem like obstacles, and instead use them to fortify their mettle.
As a whole, athletic programs in Taos County had a great school 2017-18 school year. All five teams that achieved state champion status in 2016-17 repeated their respective feats and defended their crowns. Taos County improved that number this year by one, adding a sixth team to the list of “team champions.” Two of those teams became five-time champs, three earned their second consecutive title and one ended a four-year absence. And while many individual state champions triumphed, we’re going to stick to the accomplishments of Taos County teams in the following recap.
Blue, red and green trophies
Continuing a trend that began last year, each Taos County school provided a team trophy during the 2017-18 season. In total, eight trophies were garnered by Questa, Taos and Peñasco high school teams, including six blue (first place), one red (second) and one green (third).
Starting in the fall with cross-country, coach Bruce Gomez earned his seventh team title of all time when the Lady Tigers – led by the one-two-three finish of Ella Katz, Cora Cannedy and Alyx Mastor – earned another first place in class 4A at the state cross-country championship meet in Rio Rancho with an all-time low score of 31 points Nov. 4.
In class 2A, the Peñasco Lady Panthers defended their cross-country crown in similarly commanding fashion. The win earned coach Ben Sanchez his second blue trophy with a 32-point performance led by individual champion Carly Gonzales.
Also defending its previous year's conquest, the Questa Wildcats cheer team won their second state title in Class A/2A, with another wire-to-wire show to cap the winter sports season at the state cheer championships in Albuquerque March 24.
The Taos Tigers cheer team also triumphed at state, coming away with its fifth straight Class 4A title. The five-time winners were graced with a pair of athletes, Heaven Valdez and Alejandra Fresquez, who have been cheering for coach Lisa Abeyta-Valerio for all five of those state championships. This rare distinction is the first for any Taos Tiger athlete in any sport.
And, not to be outdone, the Taos Tigers boys track and field kept pace with cheer as they brought home their fifth consecutive class 4A championship as well. Along with the Lady Tigers, who also won a title on May 12, the two teams handed coach Benny Mitchell his seventh and eighth career blue trophies and ending a four-year drought of any colored hardwarefor the girls team .
The lone red trophy in 2017-18 came with lots of tears as the Peñasco Lady Panthers basketball team ended an impressive post-season run as the class 2A runners-up inside Dreamstyle Arena (The Pit) in Albuquerque March 9. In only his second year as head coach, Gilbert Mascareñas led his team to 14 straight wins to finish the season, including three state tournament victories, before falling to the Fort Sumner/House Vixens 49-38 in the title game. Many of the same athletes were on both the Lady Panthers cross-country and basketball teams.
Finding the podium for the first time in 29 years was the Taos Tigers wrestling team, who managed to grab a green trophy at the state championships in Rio Rancho Feb. 17. The third- place finish was a nail-biting event that saw Taos pass Robertson in the waning moments of the final day of competition. Coach Robert Valencia, who was a student-athlete on the wrestling team the last time the Tigers earned hardware in 1989, book-ended the long wait with special distinction as one of his female wrestlers earned an individual state title.
Of the 40 interscholastic sports teams in the three Taos County high schools, 18 are of the type that record wins and losses. In each case, teams earn an overall record and a league record that determines an outright district champion, district tournament seeding or whether a team receives a state tournament invitation.
Of the 18 teams, 10 finished the 2017-18 school year with either an overall or league record at or above .500, and thus recorded a winning season.
Starting with the fall sports season and truly standing out in this category was the Taos Tigers football team, who finished the season with a final record of 8-4 (.666 win percentage) – improving by two games from the previous year and advancing to the second round of the state playoffs.
In soccer, the Taos Lady Tigers improved as well from the previous year, earning an 11-6 (.647) overall record and 6-4 in district play and hosted a first-round state playoff at home. The boys team was in perfect balance, finishing with a 9-9-1 (.474 win percentage) overall record and 8-4 in in the district.
Coming in third in win percentage among Taos County teams was the Questa Lady Cats volleyball team under third-year coach Michelle Spears. The Lady Cats completed an impressive season with a 12-8 (.600) overall record and 6-2 in district play.
Rounding out the fall sports winners was the Peñasco Lady Panthers volleyball team who ended the year with a lukewarm overall record of 9-15 (.375), but garnered two-thirds of their wins during league play to finish tied for first with a 6-3 district record. They earned an invite to the state championships in Rio Rancho.
The same could be said for the Questa Lady Cats basketball team, who ended their winter campaign with a 13-16 (.448) overall record, but managed a 5-5 district record, cracking the top 16 in class 2A and gaining a state tournament berth.
The greatest turnaround story of 2017-18 was hatched inside Otero Gymnasium, as the Taos Tigers went from worst-to-first and compiled an 18-11 (.620) overall record and earned a No. 5 seed in the class 4A state basketball tourney. Under the direction of first-year coach, Nando Chavez, the Tigers also came away with a 7-1 district record and made it as far as the quarterfinals of state before falling to the Moriarty Pintos at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho March 7.
The best team in Taos County with regards to wins and losses was the Peñasco Lady Panthers. They amassed an outstanding 26-5 (.839) overall record and an equally impressive 8-0 in league play. Under the tutelage of second-year coach, Gilbert Mascareñas, Peñasco went undefeated at home, led all class 2A teams with 1,849 total points and finished second at state. During his short tenure (two seasons), Mascareñas has a 44-15 (.746 career win percentage) overall record.
Another two-year coach credited with finishing on the mark was Questa Wildcat baseball skipper, Chris Padilla who ended flush (.500) in both overall (8-8) and district (4-4) records. While improving slightly from one year ago when the Wildcats went 10-11 (.476), the team was excluded from the eight-team playoff bracket, and missed the state tournament for the first time in 11 years.
Taos Tigers baseball finished the 2018 spring season with a 15-13 (.535) overall record and 7-5 in the District 2-4A. The Tigers earned a No. 10 seed in the state tournament playoff and traveled to Santa Fe to take on the St. Michael’s Horsemen in the opening round May 4-5.
Taos County rebounded a bit in 2017-18 when it came to district (team) titles. A total of eight squads who claimed league championships, an improvement of two teams from the previous year. And like last year, the women did most of the heavy lifting as six of the eight teams from Taos County were girls teams.
Half of the district notoriety came from a core group of athletes from the Peñasco Lady Panthers. The cross-country team finished as district champions for the second straight year – securing top honors at the district meet in Raton with a perfect score of 15.
A week later, Peñasco came out of nowhere to clinch the top prize in volleyball in District 5-2A and qualified for the state tournament. In basketball, the Lady Panthers cruised to a league title by going 8-0 in district play and beating the Questa Lady Cats in the district title game Feb. 24.
Joining the Lady Panthers in the fall were the Taos Lady Tigers who repeated as District 2-4A cross-country champions in a meet hosted by St. Michael's High School and held at the Santa Fe Municipal Park Complex Oct. 27. Many of the long-distance runners were also part of the track team that reclaimed the district title in the spring with a 161-138 victory over the St. Michael’s Lady Horsemen (and the rest of the field) May 5.
By exerting an extraordinary team effort at home in the final meeting of 5-2A teams, the Questa Lady Cats garnered a district title in track and field April 28.
The two boys teams claiming league championships in Taos County were the Taos Tigers basketball and track team who breezed through their respective district seasons and felled rivals and foes on their way to the top. Though it took double-overtime twice to beat the St. Michael’s Horsemen during the regular season, the Tigers basketball team handily defeated St. Mike’s 73-59 in the district tournament title game Feb. 24. At the district meet in Las Vegas, the Taos track and field team held off a determined St. Michael’s team to claim yet another championship May 5.
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