The Belen High School girls’ golf team appears ready to challenge for a state championship.
In fact, the Eagles might be the favorites after capturing the 4A State Preview Tournament on April 20 at Santa Ana Golf Club.
Defending girls’ state individual champion Rylee Salome, and two-time defending boys’ state medalist Grady Cox were in top form at the Preview for BHS.
Salome fired a 70 to win by eight strokes, and Cox won by two shots after posting a 72.
Deming won the boys’ team title, while BHS finished sixth out of 13 teams.
The results for the girls confirm what coach Donald Marquez said before the tournament.
“It’s gone really well,” Marquez said about the season. “We’re definitely top three in the state.”
Belen beat Deming in the Preview by 12 strokes, with St. Pius 17 shots off the pace.
“It will come down to depth,” Marquez says about the state tournament at Santa Ana May 8-9.
Avery Latter and Andie Saiz are among the Eagles who have excelled this spring.
“If they can just shoot their norm, I am confident we’ll do really good,” the coach said.
Salome is also upbeat.
“I feel like we have a very good shot at winning state. That’s the plan,” Salome said, pointing to the seniors as a team strength.
Salome took the state title in 2022 as a freshman and looks to repeat.
“Pressure? A little bit. I try not to be nervous, just go play my game,” she said.
Even with Cox the favorite to win medalist honors again, the BHS boys still have work to do to qualify for the state tournament. The Eagles have been without Dylan Lucero, who was injured in rodeo, and have relied on several eight- and ninth-graders.
Adam Aguilar, the teams’ only senior, is a believer.
“I think we can make it to state. We’re a young team but very talented,” Aguilar said.
While the goals aren’t as lofty for Los Lunas and Valencia, there is a sense of pride in how both programs have improved this season.
Robb Sexsmith coaches both the Tigers and Jaguars, boys and girls. Sexman believess the LLHS boys are “moving up the ladder,” pointing to a 12th place ranking in 5A, up from the 30s last season.
“Overall, as a team, we’re getting better every day,” Sexman said. “This has been our most ‘improvement’ year.
“Joshua Smith is our most improved golfer. He’s really come along with his swing.”
Sexsmith also points to consistency from Justin Martinez, Dylan Chavez and eighth-grader Danny Sapien.
Robb Sexsmith Jr., the coaches’ son, leads the Tigers in scoring average, shooting in the 70s. He is expected to qualify for state individually, but can the Tigers’ qualify as a team?
“It’s 100 percent possible,” Sexsmith Jr. said. “Everyone is improving through the tournaments. We have a pretty good bond together right now.”
While only a few girls are competing for LLHS and VHS, the number of boys has grown for Valencia. That includes eighth-grader Jesse Chavez and freshman Jason Pelosa.
The NMAA State Golf Championships will be held May 8-9.
The 4A tournament is at Santa Ana Golf Club, while the 5A event is at Twin Warriors Club.
Mike Powers spent more than 40 years as a television news and sports anchor, mostly in the Albuquerque market. He has won numerous awards including New Mexico Sportscaster of the Year. He covers a wide range of sports, including the Valencia County prep scene.