Saturday’s awards ceremonies for baseball and track and field officially closed the books on the 2021-22 high school sports season.
It turned out to be the year of normalcy — or at least a close approximation of it.
It started with mask mandates and more scares from the coronavirus and ended with fires and mass evacuations for a number of athletes’ families living in the Mora and Las Vegas, N.M., communities.
Here’s a look back at the year that was.
The entire season was turned on its head the night of Sept. 3. That’s when the Santa Fe High football team ended a 13-year losing streak to St. Michael’s with a 19-7 win at Ivan Head Stadium. That’s also the night two programs appeared to reach a fork in the road; one that seemed to take the Demons toward relevancy in Class 5A, the other that seemed to derail a 3A championship run — thanks to a season-ending knee injury to quarterback Lucas Coriz — for the Horsemen.
The Demons went on to win six games but ultimately missed the playoffs. The Horsemen reinvented themselves with backup QBs and eventually made (but lost) the state title game against Robertson. Consider it a win-win for the city, especially since Capital remained competitive in its first year under new coach Joaquin Garcia and Santa Fe Indian School made strides (in the nondistrict schedule anyway) under new coach Bill Moon.
A northern wave rolled through the state meet in November as four local runners claimed individual state championships while four teams did the same. Santa Fe distance specialists Raylee Hunt (St. Michael’s in Class 3A) and Josette Gurule (ATC in 1A-2A) won girls titles and Delaney Ulrich (Los Alamos, 4A) and Gillie Valdez (Pecos, 1A-2A) won on the boys’ side.
Hunt’s win was a strong statement for a remarkably bright future for the Lady Horsemen future. It served as a foreshadowing of what was to come in track and field. More on that later.
Perfection. Robertson completed one of the most dominant runs in 3A history by rolling to a state title in November, winning all 27 matches while dropping just five sets all season. Let that sink in; just five games lost for an entire season. The Cards swept through the state’s elite at the state tournament, a run of four matches in which 10 of the 12 games they played were decided by at least 10 points.
Santa Fe High’s already solid program got a serious shot of adrenaline when Alex Waggoner set foot on campus to start the season. The Taos transfer wound up leading not just the state in goals scored — but the entire country. His 73 net-finders were more than anyone else in America and were the nuclear fuel that drove the Demons to the Class 5A state championship, the first in school history.
It was an unbelievable run for a player who will go down as a generational talent the likes of which the city has never seen before. And to think he was only a junior.
The season included another championship game appearance for the St. Michael’s girls. The defending champs settled for second after falling to Sandia Prep in the finals.
Mesa Vista’s girls started 9-0, a streak that ended just as the team’s head coach (Leonard Torrez) and its top assistant (Leonardo Torrez, Leonard’s father) died just days apart in early January after contracting COVID-19.
The Lady Trojans dedicated their season to them and went on to win 19 games, making as far as the Class 2A state quarterfinals.
The girls’ half of the state tournament brackets saw Robertson win another championship, saw Escalante drop a heartbreaker in the finals and had Santa Fe High win 18 games and make the 5A tournament.
The news most of the season, however, was the roller coaster ride of the St. Michael’s boys. The Horsemen started 0-10, didn’t win their first game until January, lose for the first time ever to Santa Fe Prep, lose their coach to an administrative suspension — and then rebound to reach the state championship game against Robertson.
Santa Fe Prep won another small-school girls state championship, but it was the Wetteland sisters who did the most damage. Kelly, a senior, and Anna, a sophomore, each won a pair of individual event titles and teamed up to win one relay and finish second in another.
St. Michael’s won the boys’ small-school title and Los Alamos, behind the all-world effort of outgoing senior Orion Henderson, won the blue for the entire meet. Henderson dominated the 200-yard individual medley and the marathon
500 freestyle, then swam the first leg in two relay events that won it all.
Not bad for a year in which several public swimming pools were off limits for more than a year before the season even began. Thanks for that, COVID-19.
In a season that started with mask mandates and ended with girls’ wrestling becoming a rising entity, it was a pair of Santa Fe grapplers who finished on top. Santa Fe High’s Elijah Martinez won the 182-pound title, completing a dominant run in which he was the state’s top combatant in his weight class from start to finish.
Capital’s Roman Ulibarri had the same ending at 120 pounds, winning it all as a fourth-seed who wasn’t expected to advance past the semifinals.
The final 1A-3A meet went the way of West Las Vegas. Next fall the classification will be absorbed into 4A, making the Dons’ run one for the history books.
It was supposed to be the Horsemen’s world with everyone else living in it. It turned out to be Santa Fe Indian School’s party-crashing moment. The Braves, seeded eighth, took down No. 1 St. Michael’s in the quarterfinals and came within one at-bat of making it to Saturday’s Class 3A championship game.
What’s more, the season brought an end to the wooden bat era in New Mexico. The state will allow players to use composite sticks next spring. The switch to BBCOR bats makes the state the last in the country to say adios to wood-only rules.
Stop us if you’ve heard this before but … Robertson. In the last hurrah of what was a remarkable year for the Las Vegas school, the Cardinals won the 3A state title in convincing fashion by beating SFIS in the finals earlier this week.
That gave Robertson titles in volleyball, boys and girls hoops, softball and football.
Not bad when you consider that the fires in and around Las Vegas forced the baseball and softball teams to go more than a week without practicing before the state tournament.
Track and field
How sweep it was for St. Michael’s and Los Alamos, which saw its boys and girls win state titles in the team competition behind talented rosters packed with enough underclassmen to make you think a repeat to the top step is more formality than possibility in 2023.
There were record efforts from stars like Hunt of St. Mike’s and inspirational accomplishments from more athletes than can be counted.
Oh so close for Santa Fe Prep’s Fisher Hirsch, who held the lead in the 3A state tournament until the final few holes on the last day. He finished second while the St. Michael’s boys and girls each collected third-place team trophies. The entire tournament was played in brutal winds the first day, then calm heat the second.
A year after this tournament was played in near triple-digit heat, this spring’s event forced players to deal with wind — lots of wind.
It also turned out to be something of a banner year for Santa Fe netters as Santa Fe High, St. Michael’s and Santa Fe Prep all had solid team and individual showings. The Horsemen boys rallied as the 7-seed in 4A to reach the finals, beating district champion Prep along the way.
Adios, 2021-22. You gave us a good run and, thankfully, allowed us to enjoy sports in something that kinda/sorta felt like the pre-pandemic world of three seasons ago.