Rios has young VHS boys team

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Hopefully, there will be game programs on hand when the Valencia High boys basketball team takes to the court this season. Some fans might have trouble identifying all the new faces.

Ezau Rios: New Valencia High boys hoops coach

After a run of three consecutive state playoff appearances, the Jaguars lost coach Dominick Romero and eight seniors at the end of last season. There will only be about three returning lettermen for new coach Ezau Rios.

The Jaguars open the season with games at Hot Springs and Deming on Friday, Nov. 30 and and Saturday, Dec. 1.

They’re starting a new era on many levels. Many members of the Class of 2012, including Shane Lewis, L.J. Vargas, Josh Gerken, Santiago Cordova, Lorenzo Martinez, Jarrod Storey, Jude Pepke and Noah Brown, helped build the Jaguar program over its first four years of its existence.

Born in Durango, Mexico, Rios is a Las Cruces High and New Mexico State University graduate, who assisted at Atrisco Heritage the past two seasons, helping those Jaguars to their magical state-quarterfinal run last March. His sole head coaching gig was at Coronado, where he was his district’s 2008-09 and 2009-10 coach of the year, and led the Leopards to the 2010 Class 2A quarterfinals.

Valencia had its first winning season in 2011-12, going 14-13. Its 6-4 mark in District 6-4A earned them third place, along with a berth in the Class 4A state tournament, where the Jags lost 45-40 in the first round at St Pius.

“This group really wants to get better, and really wants to win,” said Rios. “It’s important to keep the attitude of being willing to do whatever it takes to win, and to be ‘all in’, and believing in what we’re doing.”

There are currently only three seniors on the active roster. While the Jags won’t be experienced, they will have some size at a few positions.

Josue Padilla is a strong, 6-foot, 215-pound post who played some varsity minutes last year. Rios said that in pre-season workouts, Padilla, despite being out for a while with a foot injury, has asserted himself.

“Josue is the undisputed leader of the team,” said Rios. “He’s vocal, and he’s the kind of post presence who is equally effective facing the basket, or with his back to it.”

Gabe Urtiaga is the team’s only returning varsity guard. He played in spot varsity duty and mop-up time, showing the athleticism that makes Rios want to use him as the team’s main shooting guard this year.

“A lot of our success depends on what Gabe can do,” Rios said of the 5-foot, 7-inch Urtiaga. “He’s our fix-it guy, when things are going wrong.”

Ronnie Williams is a first-time varsity Jaguar as a senior. The 6-foot, 2-inch Williams can play the small forward, post and center positions. Justin Storey missed all of the football season with a knee injury, and he may be out for the year after re-injuring the knee on his second day of practice.

None of the other Jaguars have played one second of varsity basketball. Rios is handing the starting point guard duties to a sophomore, 5-foot, 8-inch Quentin Wanstall, who has never played varsity.

“‘Q’ is a total gym rat,” said Rios. “His challenge will be improving his defense, but offensively, I love that kid.”

One player who has shown scoring ability is sophomore Jordan Baca. Rios said Baca and junior Malachi Jolley, a “spark of energy” who is not related to VHS football coach Kevin Jolley, will split time at the small-forward position.

There is some size on the roster. Josh Baca-Torres is a 6-foot, 2-inch junior who has lost weight and is “very good at finishing,” said Rios. Garrett Gibson is a 6-foot, 3-inch sophomore with what the coach calls “a ridiculous upside.”

Junior Dominic Zamora is an excellent catch-and-shoot scorer. Roman Marquez, another junior, is known for his positive energy, and Tristen Sanchez, a sophomore generously listed at 5-feet, 2-inches, will be another high-energy spark off the bench.

Juniors Chance Maciolek, another catch-and-shoot player, and 6-foot, 2-inch post Jason McClung hope to contribute.

Rios said he will carry about three or four varsity floaters, who also play junior varsity.

The Jags’ home opener is set for Tuesday, Dec. 4, against Socorro.


-- Email the author at jbrooks@news-bulletin.com.