The Los Lunas Tigers will look to defend their state title this season, but the other Valencia County high schools are hungry for a shot at championships, with both the Jaguars and the Eagles feeling primed for a much better year.
St. Pius and Grants join the three Valencia County schools to round out District 5.
Valencia High School
Last season: 8-14, 4-4 district, lost to Los Lunas in semifinals of the district tournament.
The Jaguars haven’t qualified for the state tournament in two years, but head coach Eric Zamora thinks this is the year for them to get back in the mix.
Heading into his fourth season in charge of the program, Zamora said this is as excited as he’s been for the season to start in a while.
Prior to coming to Valencia, Zamora had never fallen short of the state tournament — an experience he said was a challenging has ultimately made him better as a coach. Zamora thinks the defense will be a strong suit for his squad this season; they don’t have the size of some of the other teams in their district.
But what they lack in size they make up for in speed. One of the principles Zamora has worked to instill in his players is an atmosphere of support for each other, which he did through …
The biggest adjustment the team needs to make this season in order to realize state tournament aspirations is to get better at sustaining leads and finishing out matches.
“Last year, we had Los Lunas on the ropes in each of the first two sets and we let them come back and win,” Zamora said.
The Jags open their season on Aug. 24 at Moriarty. The home slate will open the following Tuesday against Alamogordo at 6 p.m.
Los Lunas High School
Last season: 18-9, 6-2 district. Beat Goddard to win back-to-back 4A state title.
The Tigers are confident coming off of last year’s state title and looking to repeat. Tanya Sanchez is in her first full year in charge of the program but has more experience with her players than most in that position.
She served as an assistant with the team to coaching her senior class in eighth grade at Los Lunas Middle School.
In addition to state championship aspirations, the Tigers also want to reclaim the district title, which Sanchez says hasn’t been done since 2015. It’s something they are confident they can do.
Sanchez repeatedly tells her team is they have a target on their back as the defending champs, so they will get every team’s best shot and if the Tigers are off their game, they could be in trouble. The mindset Sanchez wants is for her team to treat every game like the state championship.
Depth is on their side, with an expectation the junior varsity squad will be strong as well. Defense and conditioning have been a focus over the summer, so expect the Tigers to be stingy and look to wear their opponents out.
The Tigers start the season at home at 6 p.m., Tuesday, Aug. 27, against Gadsden.
Belen High School
Last Season: 7-15, 2-6 district. Lost to Valencia in the first round of the district tournament.
The Eagles will come out with a new look on offense this season, running a 5-1 instead of a 6-2 as they’ve used in the past.
The change is due in large part to setter Cheyanne Wells. Coach Andrea Montano, who is entering her third season, is confident in Wells’ ability to run the offense alone, and said the team didn’t have any problems adjusting to the new system.
If the team stays healthy, Montano believes they will be a force to be reckoned with.
The team will be doing mind training this season, Montano said, in order to help instill the belief the team can beat anyone. The team has shown in the past they can play with teams such as Los Lunas, but that they’ve lacked the ability to come out of those matches with a win.
The Eagles will be looking for more consistency this season and have been working on ball control and more aggressive play. Montano hopes with the new offensive system, the team will be able to vary the play and keep opponents off guard.
The season will start at 6 p.m., Tuesday, Aug. 27, at home against Miyamura.