Notes from the North

While Robertson’s undefeated volleyball season was the story for Northern New Mexico this weekend, let’s not forget St. Michael’s accomplishments. It was the third time in the past four years the program reached the finals, with a win in 2018 and losses to Robertson in 2019 and 2021. All of them were under the guidance of head coach Valerie Sandoval, who has compiled a 69-21 record since taking over in 2018.

In fact, the Class 3A finals have become a playground for Robertson, St. Michael’s and Albuquerque Sandia Prep. Since realignment sent Hope Christian to 4A in 2016, one of those teams has played for the blue trophy. To take it further, only once since then has a final not featured two of those three teams — in April, when Sandia Prep played Socorro for the title.

Blame the coronavirus pandemic for that, as Robertson did not play in the shortened spring season and St. Michael’s ended up on the same side of the bracket as the Lady Sundevils.

As if it needs to be said, next year’s top three teams (in no order) should be the Lady Cardinals, the Lady Horsemen and the Lady Sundevils.

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You’d be hard-pressed to find an in-state destination as far away from Northern New Mexico as Jal, a tiny blip on the map that’s so close to Texas that it’s practically more a part of Texas than it is New Mexico.

The thing is, Jal has a northern connection that makes it noteworthy.

Jal football coach Dusty Giles was the architect of the Escalante program that dominated the small-class scene during his time in Tierra Amarilla. He led the Lobos to three small-school state championships, winning the 1A title in 2012 and 2A championships in 2014 and 2015 while losing in the 2017 finals in 2A.

Giles left T.A. after the 2019 season, taking over at Jal. He grew up in Artesia and still has roots in the southeast corner of the state, making the transition an easy one.

In no time at all, he has taken the model he used at Escalante — a high-powered offense built around a run-pass threat in the backfield (in this case, two of them) — and turned Jal into a powerhouse. He inherited a team that went 3-7 the year before he arrived and has gone 14-2 the last two seasons. That includes the Panthers’ current 10-1 mark that makes them a solid No. 1 seed in the Class 2A playoffs.

Jal hammered Estancia 50-0 in the first round and did the same to Texico, 53-12, last weekend. The Panthers will host No. 3 seed Eunice on Saturday for the state championship. For the uninitiated, Jal and Eunice are bitter rivals separated by 27 miles of asphalt on N.M.-18 south of Hobbs.

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The mulligan of the week award goes to New Mexico Military Institute senior running back Jaikayo Brown. During Saturday’s Class 3A playoff loss at St. Michael’s, he found an open seam in the Horsemen secondary when Colts quarterback Juan Badillo threw diagonally across the field in his direction.

With no one within 15 feet of him, Brown was a shoo-in for a 50-yard touchdown pass.

Instead, the ball hit him directly in the face and fell incomplete. From a distance it looked like a bad drop, one that cost the Colts a trip to the end zone. In truth it was all about angles.

Brown, Badillo and the blazing sun were all in a straight line. As Badillo’s pass hit its apex, the ball disappeared into the glare of the sun. A couple of feet to the left or right would have given Brown the angle he needed to track the ball instead of fighting to see it.

In the end, the Colts wound up scoring on the drive to make it a one-possession game.

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Desmond Carpenter dropped in 33 points and Ja’Vary Christmas had 24 as the New Mexico Highlands basketball team beat Eastern New Mexico, 97-87, on Sunday afternoon in The Pit. It’s the first win of the season for the Cowboys (1-1), who opened with an exhibition loss to New Mexico on Nov. 5 and lost to Angelo State on Saturday in The Pit.

Carpenter and Christmas had 12 3-pointers between them with Carpenter leading the Cowboys with seven assists and eight steals.

Highlands will host University of the Southwest on Tuesday at the Wilson Complex in Las Vegas, then get a visit the following night from Northern New Mexico. Including the exhibition against UNM and another Nov. 24 at New Mexico State, NMHU will play each of its first eight games inside the state.

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While the soccer season begins its second week of the offseason, one omission slipped through the crack. Santa Fe High not only won its first boys title, but it had ties to the Class 5A girls champion in Albuquerque Cibola. Senior striker Mercedes Morris, who had the assist in the lone goal of the Lady Cougars’ 1-0 win over Carlsbad, happens to be the daughter of Demons head girls basketball coach Nate Morris.

Proud papa was in the stands wearing the brown-and-gold of Cibola for the afternoon match. He was equally proud on Wednesday when Mercedes signed a letter of intent to play soccer at the University of New Mexico, where Nate played football from 1988-90 after transferring from UCLA.

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One last note: Christmas in Northern New Mexico is not celebrated on Dec. 25.

No, it usually corresponds with the first day of winter practice, also known as the first day of the basketball season. That starts Monday, with games coming right after Thanksgiving.

Both Capital and Santa Fe High boys hit the court first, as they both play Las Cruces schools Nov. 27. The Jaguars head to Organ Mountain (formerly Oñate), while the Demons entertain Centennial in Toby Roybal Memorial Gymnasium.

St. Michael’s will have its girls team start the season Nov. 23, when it travels to Los Alamos for the start of the Sonya Ruiz Era.

The boys’ opener is at Los Alamos on Nov. 30 — just two days after the Class 3A football championship game (provided the Horsemen make it that far).

Nothings says the holidays in the North like turkey and basketball.

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