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2012: The year in sports

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By Dave Kavanaugh

The following is a chronological review of the year in Las Vegas-area sports for 2012.

Robertson’s wrestling program remained a state title contender and placed in the top three again in February’s state tournaments in Rio Rancho. Freshman Rico Montoya (39-1) and junior Joe Crespin (17-3) won their weight classes.

The Cardinals and West Las Vegas finished one-two in the district meet held at Mike Marr Gym. Eight Cardinals and two Dons earned individual titles.

Wagon Mound hoisted a state championship trophy for the first time since the late 1970s, delighting the village — most of which migrated to The Pit for the Trojans’ memorable run. Longtime head coach Bobby Clouthier cracked that in a place as small as Wagon Mound, playing hoops is all they have to do for fun.

Robertson’s boys made it to the Class 3A championship game — marking the deepest run ever at state for a Cardinal basketball program — before losing to St. Michael’s 58-57. Justin Bustos earned district player of the year honors, all-state and North-South acclaim despite having his hoops debut delayed due to a football injury.

The accomplishments weren’t enough to save David Bustos’ head coaching position, however. In the spring he was relieved of his coaching duties and replaced with Manuel Romero, whose resumé included a 2A title with Mora.

Speaking of Mora, coaches Mark Cassidy and James Branch led their teams to district titles after stellar regular seasons (24-2 and 23-3, respectively). Both Rangerettes and Rangers advanced to the Class 2A state tournaments.

The Mora girls fell in the semifinals to defending state champ Navajo Pine 46-43. It was a historic season nonetheless. Cassidy hit the 200-win milestone in his coaching career, and Andrea Romero became the program’s all-time leading scorer.

Also making it to state from the area: West’s girls, Pecos’ boys and the district
champion Robertson Lady Cardinals.

NMHU hoops teams posted competitive seasons — Tiffany Darling’s Cowgirls upset then-No. 5 West Texas A&M at one point — but missed the cut for the RMAC tournaments. The Cowboys were 12-14; the Cowgirls 13-13.

Highlands track and field star Jillisa Grant won two NCAA Division II national championships, helping the Cowgirls place eighth as a team — the highest finish for any NMHU program in a national championship event since becoming affiliated with the NCAA in 1992.

Grant started by taking the long jump championship, clearing 6.26 meters. In doing so the NMHU junior shattered the longest-standing indoor track and field record for D-II.
Then she pulled an upset in winning the 200-meter dash in 24.08 seconds.

Kearah Danville of NMHU also had a strong individual effort, taking seventh in the triple jump in March’s indoor nationals in Mankato, Minn.

Robertson swept to dual district titles in team tennis under new head coach Roman Fulgenzi in April.

That set the stage for an individual state championship run by Juliana Guerin, who won the state singles final for the second time in three years.

West Las Vegas (22-7 overall) did not drop a district game in surging to the district softball championship under coach Lucas Griego. The Lady Dons made a deep run in the state tournament after being awarded a No. 3 seed. The road ended when eventual state runner-up Portales won 9-6 in the battle-back bracket.

RHS baseball (18-10) made it to the Class 3A state quarterfinals for the second year in a row, this time under new head coach Tony Renon. The Redbird sluggers lost 8-4 to eventual state champ Portales.

Also making it to state on the diamond: WLV baseball, RHS softball, Pecos baseball, and the feuding Mora and Pecos softball teams.

Mora’s Alonzo Chavez kicked to Class 2A state titles in the 1,600 (4:22.79)and 3,200-meter (9:51.81) runs. He edged rival Antonio Varela of Pecos for the latter and helped the Rangers place sixth as a team.

Robertson girls’ track team won district, and both RHS boys and girls finished sixth in the state meet held at UNM in early May.

Danielle Gurule of West Las Vegas captured her second straight state title in the girls’ discus with a throw of 108 feet.

In all, Meadow City tracksters accounted for 11 top-three finishes.

Jayme Quintana of West Las Vegas had a strong second day in the state golf meet, shooting an 84 for a 10-stroke improvement and finishing sixth overall.

Robertson’s Jamie Allen was 14th and WLV’s Joedy Quintana 18th.

NMHU baseball and head coach Steve Jones matched a program record for wins in a 41-16 campaign that ended with a 4-2 loss to St. Cloud State in the NCAA Division II Central Regional semifinals. The Cowboys went 2-2 in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference tournament and beat archrival Colorado Mesa on their way to the postseason.

In collegiate outdoor track and field, Danville’s 13.2 in the triple jump clinched an individual national championship and buoyed Highlands’ women to a fifth-place team result in the outdoor nationals held in Pueblo, Colo.

Grant was third in the 200 to earn a ninth personal All-American honor, and Sheneika Rochester was third in the 100.

Danville’s title was the fourth in program history.

The summer saw recent Lady Don grads Montanna Martinez and Larrissa Gallegos earn MVP and Golden Glove honors for their efforts in the North-South softball game in Bayard.

The Highlands campus served as the venue, and a committee of organizers led by West coach Dean Gallegos hosted the North-South baseball festivities in the Meadow City for the first time. The events, hailed as a success by participants and organizers alike, were followed in July by the usual North-South week for football and boys’ and girls’ basketball.

Little League season served up fun for youngsters but also more than a bit of controversy. An early-June incident at La Plaza involving the brandishing of a firearm led to the suspension of new league president Leon Garcia and two other individuals.

La Plaza was lined up to host the District 4 All-Star tournaments, but district brass ended up relocating the events to Raton because of poor field conditions at the city-run Rodriguez Park complex. Officials blamed the ongoing drought. And finally, more than one complaint surfaced against both local leagues because of restrictive transfer rules that allegedly kept kids from full participation.

The fall saw Highlands’ football achieve an 8-3 record — its best since the late 1990s — under second-year coach Eric Young.

NMHU cross country runner Ismael Samano capped his collegiate career by qualifying for nationals in Joplin, Mo. Samano had finished 18th in regionals to earn the trip; the Cowboys — hurt by health issues — ran ninth as a team, missing the cut by three spots. Mora’s Henrique Chavez had been a team leader much of the season but injury waylaid him down the stretch.

Highlands volleyball saw a change of coaches, as Bryan Crawford replaced Jim Deisler, who took a job as an administrator under Ed Manzanares. After a promising start, the Cowgirls struggled in league play and finished 6-23 overall and 2-17 in RMAC.

Among other coaching changes in the latter half of the year: Dean Gallegos ousted at WLV baseball and replaced by Ryan Gabaldon; Mike Ulibarri out at WLV football and replaced by Robert Alarcon; Alarcon’s wrestling job filled by assistant Joel Luna; and Renon departing RHS, leaving the baseball job vacant. Mary Bustos left RHS, and Judith Trujillo took over the volleyball program while Bustos replaced Felix Flores at West.

One of the other new coaches was Ian Williamson, who took over for retiring Ray Parks and led Robertson’s girls’ soccer team to the state semifinals. The Lady Cards went 19-3 and lost to Hope Christian in the semis.

Already a state champ in track within 2012, Mora’s Alonzo Chavez ran to a state cross country title in November. Pecos’ Cassandra C de Baca won on the girls’ side.

WLV volleyball, 15-9 and a runner-up to mighty Pojoaque, lost to Santa Fe Indian in the first round of state.

RHS football endured a brutal early slate, swept through District 2-3A for the title, and made the state playoffs. But after Robertson beat Portales 40-26 in the opener, Ruidoso eliminated the Cards 50-0.

In 2012, the local sports community mourned the losses of coach Josh Garcia and Vatos rugby player Alani Tuineau Sione, both killed in motor vehicle crashes.

There was recognition for late coach (and mayor) Henry O. Sanchez and coach (and All-American runner) Fabian Trujillo. For Sanchez, the basketball court at Wilson Complex was named in his honor. Trujillo was memorialized with a distance run and — as one of a number of organ donors — on a Rose Bowl parade float.