Above and Beyond: Leading team to victory

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By Don Pace

As the Lady Dons ended their unforgettable season in the University of New Mexico’s “Pit,” appreciation for coach Jose “Magic” Medina and the team’s achievement’s was only beginning.

As star players Vanessa Lucero and Miranda Martinez walked off the court, they were invited to try out for the Nike Elite Travel Team. Of the more than 130 young women who tried out, both Lady Dons made the squad.

The New Mexico Athletic Association also awarded Lady Don Linda Esquibel its top scholarship of $2,500. (Robertson High School Lady Cardinal Daniella Montoya was awarded a $1,000 scholarship.)

Medina has coached the Lady Dons for seven years, winning three district tournaments and getting to state several times. This year’s state runnerup finish is the best in the program’s history.

“I like how he has confidence in us, and gives us a chance to perform,” Lucero said.

And perform they did. The state championship game was a rematch between the Lady Dons and Santa Fe Indian School’s Lady Braves. In the District 2-3A tournament final, West beat the Lady Braves on their home court 53-41. The teams split their two regular-season matchups.

“We’ve got some good kids here at West Las Vegas. Our girls practice hard. They do well on the basketball court, in the classroom and are always trying to make their community a better place,” Medina said.

Medina said he and his team have been touched by the outpouring of support from the community. Signs all over town congratulated the Lady Dons. They were also recognized at Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

Mayor Alfonso Ortiz said he tries to keep up on current events, and like everyone else in town was glued to the radio during the Lady Dons’ run at the state title. He said he’s not the type to get excited but that he did become that way when listening to the Dons games.

Superintendent Jim Abreu said, “I’m happy with what he (Medina) has done with the team, teaching them to behave like young adults, both on and off the court. He built that program and gets the most out of his players every year. Of course, you can’t say enough about the girls. They went all the way to the finals and are one of the two best teams in the state. People don’t realize how hard it is just to get to the playoffs.”

Abreu said a lot of teams and coaches work their whole lives and don’t get to the big dance.

“And we did it. Coach Medina and the Lady Dons gave us a great season, and I was very proud of them,” Abreu said.

Principal Gene Parson said he didn’t think Medina ever thought he’d be coaching girls basketball, but now that he is, he’s in love with it. 

“What I like about coach Medina is he’s a very mild-mannered person, since he’s been here he’s been even-keeled, even-tempered, and respectful to our lady players. He knows how to read the girls very well. He knows which ones he needs to get after, and those who he needs to be a little more gentle with,” Parson said. “He deserves all the accolades he gets because he does his job, and he does it well.”

Parson said he is especially appreciative of community support for the green and gold.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think we’d ever pack the Pit,” Parson said.

On the other side of town, the Las Vegas City Schools board sent its congratulations.

Board President Ramon “Swoops” Montaño said, “Anytime a Las Vegas team is playing at that level, regardless of school, we’ve got to be there to support them. I was impressed to see the girls play with so much heart and dedication, and we want to give them a round of applause for such a successful season.”          

After graduating from Robertson, Medina went to Hesston, Kan., where he played college basketball for two years. He then transferred to Highlands University and played for the Cowboys for two years under head coach Henry Sanchez, later Las Vegas’ mayor.

As soon as Medina graduated from Highlands, he began his coaching career under the tutelage of Sanchez. After three years with the Cowboy coaching staff, he got his first head coaching job at Robertson. A couple of years later, he was offered a job in Bernalillo and coached there for five years before taking the job at West.

“They treat me great here. I’ve been very fortunate to teach, coach and act as athletic director. I’m very grateful to have had all the opportunities at this school district,” Medina said.

The last four years, Medina has also coached the golf team.

“The golf team didn’t have a coach, so I volunteered to act more as a chaperone taking the kids to tournaments. I got hooked on the game, so now I coach both the girls and boys teams,” Medina said.

Medina said the most satisfying thing about coaching is watching students be successful. He said seeing Linda Esquibel accepting the NMAA scholarship was a great moment.

Medina and his significant other, Andrea, have a daughter, Ciana Lorena, and a son, Ryan.