ust about every coach that I have interacted with locally has heard me say some version of the statement, I love teams who schedule tough. In this region for high school sports, all the teams are either AA or AAA, and I love seeing those teams play up above their classification. Over the last six seasons no program in this region has been more successful than the Pecos Panthers boys basketball program. There’s a few reasons for that, but one of the biggest ones is their schedule, not only during the season but also during the summer.

Last weekend the Panthers traveled up to Denver to play against teams from higher classifications in Colorado. The results were mixed with the team going 4-3, but what Pecos recognizes is that the goal of the summer is not to win every game, it’s to get better. When challenging yourself against a higher level of competition you are not likely to win every time you take the floor, but if you play it right, what it will be is an opportunity to get better. A tough summer schedule is something that the Panthers have been doing for about a decade now, and in the last six years the results are clear, six district championships, five state championship game appearances and four state championships. 

It’s not just a tough summer schedule, the Panthers schedule as tough as any small school in the state for non-district play. They create their schedule not to have the best winning percentage, but to make their team as good as possible for the playoffs. They could easily schedule teams from A, AA and the bottom of AAA and collect wins for a record that looks great. What they do instead is challenge themselves, play games that they may not be likely to win in order to introduce their team to a different level of competition, a level that they will be forced to raise themselves to in order to compete at that level. 

What gets me excited is that right now Pecos is no longer the only basketball team doing that locally. WLV Lady Dons’ head coach Miranda Martinez is beginning to do the exact same thing. Martinez has taken her team across the state and even across state lines in order for the opportunity to compete against higher level competition, and that mentality is not limited to just the summer. In 2022-23, the Lady Dons will open the season against the defending 5A state champion Volcano Vista. The Lady Dons will be young next season, likely starting multiple freshmen, but they are going to get an early taste of the level Martinez wants them to be at in that game. 

It’s not just the Panthers and the Lady Dons that are doing this locally. In 2021-22 there were six state championship teams in Las Vegas. Six teams across five different sports, there was one thing they all had in common, a tough non-district schedule. These teams all benefited from competing in a tough district as well, but the non-district schedule was tough across the board for all six of the championship teams. All of these teams were talented, you cannot win without talent, but they maximized their talent by making sure they put together a highly competitive schedule.

In high school sports too many people worry about the record at the end of the season. The goal that every team is trying to achieve is winning the last game of the season. Some people are so obsessed with their record that they would rather be 12-0 in non-district play while not challenging themselves than be 7-5. You can play a weak schedule and rack up wins against inferior competition, but that does not help you, and as a coach you learn nothing about your team by beating up on inferior teams. I’m not saying every team needs to put Volcano Vista or the other top 5A teams on their schedule, but whatever level your team is at, scheduling a team a notch or two above you during the summer or in non-district play is only going to help your team in the long run. 

Last year in AAA boys St. Michael’s reached the state championship game after going just 3-10 in non-district play. What the Horsemen did was play top competition, learn about themselves as a team, get better as the season progressed, peaked late in the year and came 10 points short of a state championship. The team they played in that title game was Robertson. The Cardinals were 4-5 at one point last season, suffering losses to 4A Valencia, 5A Santa Fe Capital and AAA No. 1 seed Socorro early in the season. After starting 4-5 the Cardinals went on to win 19 of their last 20 games and take home their first blue trophy in program history.

Robertson volleyball spent a large portion of their non-district schedule competing against 4A and 5A competition. Robertson football put 5A Santa Fe High on their schedule for week one, they scheduled 4A Ruidoso in week four as well. West Las Vegas wrestling went to several larger meets earlier in the season before lifting the blue in February. Robertson girls basketball went to multiple tournaments featuring 4A and 5A schools in non-district play and Cardinal softball made it a point to play a tough schedule in order to make sure they were at their best for the postseason. It’s not to say that the only reason these teams won the blue was because of their schedule, all of these teams were filled with talent, but I don’t believe it’s simply coincidence that all of the local teams that won championships were teams who created a tough schedule for themselves.

We often judge teams by their win-loss record, but you always have to account for who they are playing, teams are not always what their record says they are. Strength of schedule is something the NMAA weighs heavily in their playoff seeding formula. So many fans and coaches are obsessed simply with the record when it does not tell the overall story. Some people are afraid to schedule tough in order to preserve a record. Teams who do that are not rewarded come playoff time. Teams who schedule tough have been rewarded with playoff and championship success, and I anticipate that trend continuing going forward.

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