The Ruiz household has made such a home at St. Michael’s, it made perfect sense for Sonya Ruiz to return to coaching there.
With her husband, Augustin Ruiz, coaching the baseball team, and three of their four children already enrolled at the school, Sonya Ruiz ended a 15-year lay off from running a program when she was hired as head girls basketball coach at her alma mater Thursday. A 1995 graduate and the school’s athlete of the year as a senior, Sonya Ruiz has taught math at St. Michael’s for the past 15 years, but she returned to the coaching ranks four years ago as an assistant coach under Martin Esquibel, who resigned in May.
The Lady Horsemen went 3-6 in 2021 and missed the postseason for the first time since 2005, which also was the last time the state tournament had an eight-team field until this season.
Sonya Ruiz said the timing couldn’t have been more perfect because two of her children are in high school and another just finished seventh grade. A third daughter is going to be in fifth grade, but Sonya Ruiz said all of her children are at an age where they can be with her in the gym.
“When Martin got the job four years ago, he asked me if I wanted to do it,” Sonya Ruiz said. “The kids were getting older. One of my daughters was in sixth grade at the time, so she was going to be in the program. I’ve got another daughter who is going to be in eighth grade next year, so the timing was pretty good for me.”
Sonya Ruiz previously coached at Pecos High School, her husband’s alma mater, from 2001-05 and guided the Lady Panthers to a 56-46 record. In her final year, Pecos qualified for its first state girls basketball tournament appearance and advanced to the Class 2A semifinals before losing to eventual champion Albuquerque Hope Christian.
After spending the next decade being a mother to her four children while also teaching at St. Michael’s, Sonya Ruiz returned to coaching in 2017, and the itch to run a program steadily grew.
“I’m there on that bench, and I’m supporting the girls and working with Martin, but you have that itch, that nudge inside of you,” she said. “You know you want to be there [running the program] next.”
Kevin Garcia, athletic director at St. Michael’s, said Sonya Ruiz’s presence on campus played an important role in her hiring because she can attract more kids to the program.
He likened it to his time as an assistant football coach during the 1990s at the school, which helped set the table for two decades of Horsemen success on the gridiron.
“To be quite honest, we’d like to get more girls participating, and I can’t think of a better way to do that than a teacher who is the head coach,” Garcia said. “That helps a program so much.”
Still, Sonya Ruiz said much has changed in the basketball landscape since her time at Pecos, especially the emergence of club basketball.
“The club scene is so much bigger than it was a decade ago,” Sonya Ruiz said. “You got to know your girls and what they’re learning on the club scene and you got to be able to participate in stuff and get them playing all summer long. I’ve learned that just from the last couple of years.”
One thing Sonya Ruiz said the program doesn’t lack is talent. She points to the Lady Horsemen beating Las Vegas Robertson, the eventual 3A runner-up, at home April 21 as a sign that the program is capable of competing at a high level.
She said she is keeping Esquibel’s staff intact, which will also help make the transition more seamless.
“I want the girls to have the same experience I did,” Sonya Ruiz said. “I had an amazing experience as a student and an athlete, and I want to provide them with the same opportunities I was given.”