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North-South bittersweet for some

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All-star games Friday, Saturday

By Dave Kavanaugh

Many of the North-South All-Stars lining up for the basketball or football games this weekend acknowledge that it’ll be a bittersweet moment for them.

Some may go on to play on the college level in 2011-12. Most will take part in at least some type of organized competition in the future. But at the very least, the North-South games mean the end of one major chapter in their lives.

“It feels like after this game, I’ll put high school behind me and hopefully move on to bigger and better things,” said Miranda Martinez, a recent West Las Vegas graduate who is on the North girls’ basketball lineup.

Martinez is one of a number of Las Vegas athletes who will be on North All-Star rosters. Robertson grad Kassandra Tapia will join her on the North girls’ hoops squad playing Friday night at 6 at the Wilson Complex. Fabian Varela of RHS is on the North boys’ basketball team that’ll play the South after the girls are done. Nick Archuleta,  Gabriel Lovato, Johnathan Lucero, Daniel Martinez and Brian Rudolph of the Cardinals will team with the Dons’ T.J. Esquibel, Jayvis Medrano and John Montoya as part of the North football team for a Saturday night game at Perkins Stadium.

“I loved playing at West,” Miranda Martinez said. “I have a lot of pride in that school.” She said she’ll miss that experience but is looking forward to a shot at the New Mexico Highlands women’s program.

Martinez hopes her court vision and awareness will help her secure a roster spot with the Cowgirls.

“I have the mentality to never settle for anything,” she said. “You can always work it better. (As a point guard) you have to be like another coach on the floor. You have to have awareness, and you have to see the whole court.”

Martinez, who averaged 15.7 points, 6.0 assists, 7.0 rebounds and 4.0 steals a game, was an all-state and all-district player for the Lady Dons.

She thanked Coach Jose “Majic” Medina and her parents for helping her succeed.

While Martinez was dominating the perimeter for West, Tapia was a major force in the paint for Robertson.

She was one of the leading scorers, rebounders and shot-blockers for Aunna Bradley’s Lady Cardinals throughout her prep career.

Injury hampered her efforts much of her senior season, but Tapia is hailed as a team leader in volleyball and track and field as well as basketball.

Varela played for Morgan Montaño at WLV and for David Bustos at RHS; he credits both coaches with helping him develop as a player.

“I’m pretty excited,” he said. “I had always wanted to make North-South — since I was little.”

“It’s fun,” he said of this past week’s training alongside many of the state’s premier players from the Class of ‘11. “I get along with everyone on my team. It’s nice to have teammates who know what they’re doing and have all the fundamentals down.”

Varela said he’s loved being a key part of the team offense wherever he’s been, but he also has had no problem doing the dirty work.

“I like to score,” he said. “I also try to get as many boards as I can. You’ve got to have those rebounds ... I like playing against bigger guys, too, because they make you better.”

Bustos said Varela was a major contributor to the Cardinals’ recent triumphs: “He did a great job for us, and he’ll be missed.”

Winning the Stu Clark Tournament with the Cards in 2009 was a high point for Varela.

“We’ve been together a long time, and it was something we all wanted for ourselves. So that was one of the biggest moments.”

Varela, who was an all-district player as a junior, also had to overcome injury his senior year. He averaged 12.5 points, 8.0 rebounds per game.

He said he will try to walk on at NMHU, which he’ll attend this fall.

One athlete who has admitted to having mixed feelings about the end of the high school glory days is Daniel Martinez. Martinez’s busy wall — loaded with wrestling medals and other sports honors — is plenty of reminder of the time he and his fellow recently graduated seniors are leaving behind.

Martinez was all-state and all-district (including MVP) in football. A member of the New Mexico Wrestling Dream Team, he is one of only three grapplers to have won five individual state championships. He also won state in the hurdles and as part of a relay team in track.

He and fellow former Cardinals Archuleta, Lovato, Lucero and Rudolph all played major roles in getting Robertson back to the state football semifinals this past fall.

For West’s Esquibel, Medrano and Montoya, Saturday’s North-South football game will also be one last chance to play for their high school coach, Mike Ulibarri. Ulibarri will lead the North against the South and its head coach, Jack Cisco of Hatch Valley.