Coaching chaos started for girls’ basketball teams in Valencia County at the end of last season with the resignations of both head coaches at Los Lunas and Valencia. That led to a series of events that may have surprised even the most diehard fan. Only Belen managed to avoid the drama.
When the coaching carousel stopped at Valencia, former Jaguars’ assistant and Belen High School graduate Raymond Montoya was holding the whistle.
“It’s exciting, the whole process — learning the team and seeing how we’re going to jell together,” said Montoya, a first-time head coach.
Montoya took over the program just weeks before practice started after Marty Zeller, who was hired when Micaela Medina stepped down, suddenly resigned without coaching a game.
“I think everyone is really excited to play for him,” said Azalia Malizia, senior guard, about Montoya. “Everyone has energy to show up for him.”
Despite having three coaches within a span of several months, Malizia says the players have settled in with the new staff.
“I think we’re going to do extremely well,” Montoya said.
VHS (19-11) qualified for the state playoffs last year on the strength of full court pressure and three-point shooting. Expect more of the same this season.
“We’re going to be a fun, fast team,” the coach believes. “A lot of pressure and a lot of shots — everyone getting after it.”
Montoya will rely on quality guard play from Malizia, Jadyn Montoya and Francesca Otero, who will all “manage the game, control the speed.”
The Jaguars will look to sisters Jaiden and Eden Montgomery for quality play inside.
“We’ve got a really deep team honestly, eight, nine deep. I’m really impressed with how hard they work, how quick they pick things up.”
Valencia opened the season Tuesday with a hard-fought 53-39 loss to defending 4A state champion Gallup, the team that eliminated the Jaguars from the playoffs last year.
Los Lunas Tigers
While Los Lunas has a fourth head coach in four seasons, the Tigers’ new coaching staff does bring plenty of experience and familiarity with Los Lunas Schools.
Manny Vigil, hired to replace David Medina who resigned after one season, is a former head coach at Valencia. Vigil’s wife, Shannon, also a former VHS head coach, will be his top assistant.
“We’re glad to be back” in the district, Manny Vigil said. “We’re comfortable with the kids, school, community. Everything.”
The Tigers (6-22) have struggled in recent seasons, adjusting to new leadership.
“It’s definitely been hard,” admitted Alyssa Campos, sophomore forward. We have a better coach. He’s brought us closer together as a team.It is a very positive program that we have this year.”
On the court, Vigil says the Tigers will play uptempo.
“The kids do have speed, so we’re going to try to use that on both sides — try to turn a lot of defense-to-offense type stuff,” Vigil said.
Perhaps the most important goal is to bring stability to the program.
“I can tell the girls feel more at ease. There’s some continuity,” Vigil said. “I think they know we’re here for the long run.”
It won’t take long to see how the Tigers have progressed.
“We have a pretty tough schedule right off the bat,” Vigil pointed out. “I still expect us to be in every game that we play.”
Los Lunas posted an impressive 51-38 victory Tuesday on the Tigers’ home court against Las Cruces.
Unlike their Valencia County counterparts, Belen Eagles have been flying below the radar, staying out of the headlines. Second-year coach Sam Gavaldon believes BHS, 8-18 last season, could make some positive news this time around.
“I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people,”Gavaldon predicts. “We’re not going to be a doormat anymore. We’re going to compete.”
Gavaldon is encouraged by how the team played in summer ball against quality competition. Plus, four starters return including sisters Jaelynn and Danilynn Bob along with Jadarose and Analeigha Wright, also siblings.
“We’ve got a good, solid team,” said Analeigha, the Eagles’ lone senior. “We were playing together really well” over the summer.
Belen will be without Maesyn Lopez, a 6-foot, 1-inch multi-talented force who graduated.
“Everybody fills it,” Gavaldon said of the hole Lopez leaves behind.
With a deeper bench, BHS will play baseline to baseline, running and pressing more.
“I’m going to use my bench because I want everybody out there to give their all,” the coach said. “Come out, take a drink, and go back in.”
That style should fit the smaller lineup. “I like to run all over the court, set traps, get a lot of steals and layups,” Analeigha said.
Belen will start the season Thursday against Lordsburg at the Hatch Valley Tournament. BHS hosts the four-team Hub City Tournament Dec. 7-8.
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.