Mike Powers|News-Bulletin photos
Belen Eagles look to make another strong playoff run

Thoughts of last year’s state boys’ basketball tournament results still linger for the Belen Eagles and Los Lunas Tigers, while the Valencia Jaguars believe they can make a run at the playoffs this season.



Fans of the Belen Eagles may not recognize this years’ team. After riding an inside game into the 4A state semifinals, an overtime loss to Del Norte, the Eagles strength this season will be decidedly different.

“We lost three ‘bigs,’ who were the engine of our season,” said coach Donald Marquez.

That means BHS will be “adapting, trying to pick up the pace. We will play more to our size, run more.”

That is just fine with shooting guard Elijah Romero and point guard Jordi Rojo, the Eagles’ co-captains.

“I’m excited to run this year. I’ve been waiting for this a long time,” said Rojo, a three-year starter.

“Me and Jordi have to control the team,” Romero said. “I’m a little nervous, but if we play our game, we’ll be good.”

Coach Marquez loves his guard combo.

“He’s quick, fast and can shoot,” Marquez says of Rojo. He says Romero can guard anyone in the state.

However, with so many changes, Marquez says the Eagles may struggle early but be ready by district.

“This is as coachable of a team as I’ve had in a long time. It excites me to coach them, to see how hard they work.”

“We’ll be the underdog, but we’ll shock a lot of people,” Romero proclaims.

Belen opened the season Monday at Manzano, losing 51-39, and play in an the Sandia Prep tournament starting Thursday.


Los Lunas

When asked what the strength of the Los Lunas Tigers would be this season, coach Travis Julian responded: “The obvious one — Jalin.”

Tigers’ sophomore Jalin Holland is one of the top players in the state

Jalin Holland is a 6-foot, 4-inch sophomore, and the first-team all-state selection who will run the point full-time.

“He’s a special player — a dynamic play-maker out on the floor for us,” Julian said.

Holland said he’s looking forward to his role.

“I like that a lot. I just like having the ball,” Holland said.

Holland says the Tigers are “passing the ball more, getting open shots.”

Julian says senior Ezra Guest will transition to shooting guard to add firepower. LLHS has seven seniors but lack overall experience.

Geleio Griego will add a shooting touch, and Thomas Ordonez “gives us something we don’t have-a wide body,” Julian said.

The Tigers played in a fall league and “are way ahead of where we were last year,” Julian said.

Expectations are high.

“We always have high expectations. We want to take a step further in the state tournament,” and reach the Pit, where the semifinals were held during the pandemic.

Holland says the Tigers can reach their ultimate goal.

“Getting the blue trophy” — a state title — “it’s realistic.”

Los Lunas is 2-0 after victories over Farmington and Piedra Vista. The Tigers play in a Carlsbad tournament starting Thursday.



This preseason brought a sense of calm to Valencia coach Jesse Hathoot compared to his first year when he was hired late.

“I didn’t have an offseason with them,” Hathoot said. “I felt like we were swimming upstream — everything is a lot smoother this year.”

Hathoot believes the Jaguars had the toughest schedule in 4A last season which has made the team battle tested.

Depth and versatility are strengths the Jaguars will rely on this season

“We have a really big core back,” Hathoot says of the VHS depth.

“We’ve got kids that can score from different areas, a lot of versatility — we can go inside to Ali.”

Ali Abdullah is a 6-foot, 4-inch senior, who scored 17 points in the season opener in which Kirtland Central won at the buzzer.

Abdullah is the Jags’ most experienced player.

“I have great expectations on me but I’m totally going to rise to the challenge,” Abdullah said.

Abdullah will have help.

“We’ve got a couple of good play-makers off the dribble,” Hathoot said about Damian Estrada, Fernando Enriquez and Richie Baca. “If we take care of the ball we should be hard to guard.

“We’ve got to get tougher, get a little bit grittier,” Hathoot believes.

Abdullah says the Jaguars can win 20 games and make the state playoffs.

“We’ve matured. I think this year we can surprise a lot of people.”

Valencia played at Del Norte Tuesday, losing 69-64.  The Jaguars play at St. Michael’s on Thursday.

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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.