Tiger football was among News-Bulletin’s top stories of 2012

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There were some unprecedented highs and lows involving Valencia County athletics in 2012. Here are a few of our top stories:

Los Lunas High football: The Tigers passed a number of milestones in 2012 as they finished 12-1. They made their first undefeated trek through the regular season, clinched their first district championship in 20 years (and only the second in team history), and reached the state semifinals and championship game for the first time. A crowd of 7,000 watched at Willie Chavez Field as a last-second field goal allowed Goddard to beat the Tigers in the title game, 17-14.

News-Bulletin file photo: Isaac Parra helped the Los Lunas High football team accomplish a number of firsts in 2012, including capturing its first district championship trophy since 1992. The Tigers’ 12-1 season, along with their appearance in their first state championship game in December, were among the top News-Bulletin stories of the year.

Leia Pluemer and other national rodeo qualifiers: The Bosque Farms resident won a national championship in pole bending. At the National High School Finals Rodeo in Wyoming in July, Pluemer, a Hope Christian High junior at the time, had the week’s top average in pole bending, and nearly won the All-Around Cowgirl title as well. Lorenzo Lara narrowly missed a national title in light rifle shooting and goat tyer Lindsey Adcock and bareback rider Wyatt Harper also made it to nationals.

Little League: For the first time in recent memory, no teams from Valencia County leagues were able to win district championships or advance to state tournaments. The Enchantment Minor softball and Major softball teams both reached the District 9 championship games of their divisions, but both lost to Westgate in the finals.

Taylar Jaramillo, golf: The diminutive Belen High standout signed a letter of intent in the winter to attend St. Francis University in Pennsylvania. In the spring, she finished a brilliant five-year Belen High career by winning her second consecutive Class 4A state individual title. Jaramillo went on to make an impact with St. Francis right away as a true freshman, never posting a round higher than 83 in three fall tournaments for the Red Flash.

Los Lunas boys soccer: Like Tiger football, the LLHS boys soccer team crossed several thresholds this year. The Tigers went 9-1 in District 6-4A, clinching their first district title in their 30 years or so of existence. They also had not advanced to the second round of the playoffs in many years, but they did so with a dramatic first-round shootout playoff win over Santa Teresa before losing 2-1 to Los Alamos in the Class 4A state quarterfinals.

Valencia High baseball: Powered by a solid senior class, the Jaguars won their first district title and reached the Class 4A state semifinals. An emotional win over St. Pius in the quarterfinals was followed by a semifinal game against Miyamura, a district rival the Jags had already beaten twice. But Valencia came up short in the semifinal game, which was completed on a different field and day than it began, due to heavy rains.

News-Bulletin file photo: Kaitlynn Craig, center, as a part of the Valencia High girls medley team that outpaced a Belen team to win the Class 4A title at the state track and field championships in May. Craig also was District 6-4A Co-Player of the Year for the VHS girls soccer team, with Lady Jaguar coach Kimberly Chavez-Burkhard earning 6-4A Coach of the Year in the fall.

TWST, high school and club swimmers: The Tidal Wave Swim Team began in 2011, and the effect of TWST and other club swimming was felt in 2012. Ryan Lupi became the first Los Lunas High male swimmer to qualify for state in years. Swimmers from the Belen Hurricanes and Los Lunas Stingrays, some of whom also swim for TWST or other year-round clubs, excelled at the Sundance League Championships in July.

Belen High football: While the Eagles were somewhat overshadowed by the success of District 6-4A rival Los Lunas, the Eagles beat nearly everyone on their schedule. The Eagles went 9-3, losing once to Los Lunas and twice to state champion Goddard, and were competitive in both Goddard games. The Eagles overcame a 27-0, third-quarter deficit to win in overtime at Moriarty, and overcame several injuries to placed second in 6-4A with a 4-1 mark, earning the No. 4 seed and a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Los Lunas girls track: The Lady Tigers, powered largely by Nicole Jenrette’s record-setting performance, tied with Piedra Vista for the third-place team trophy at the Class 4A state track and field championships. Jenrette won her second consecutive state high jump title, setting a new state record with a leap of 5-feet, 6.5 inches. She cleared a school-record 5-feet, 8-inches during the regular season, and also won state in the high jump before heading to Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas.

Belen boys cross country: The Eagle boys claimed their second third-place state championship trophy in three seasons. Powered by the determination of Dontae Vigil and District 6-4A champion Aaron Romero, both of whom overcame health issues, the Eagles were second only to powerhouses Los Alamos and Albuquerque Academy. The Eagle boys also claimed their third district team title in the past four years.

Valencia and Los Lunas volleyball: Los Lunas went 10-0 in District 6-4A for the third consecutive year, albeit with a forfeit win over Valencia, which was penalized for scheduling too many matches. Valencia went on to sweep LLHS in the district tourney championship and earn its first state tourney bid, while the Tigers made state for the third straight year, and the second round for the second consecutive season. Both the Tigers and Jaguars lost to eventual state champion St. Pius.

Belen Eagle wrestling: In recent years, the Belen and Los Lunas wrestling programs have both made their mark at the state tournament. In 2012, Belen placed second, with Wyatt Robinson and Phillip Gonzales both repeating as state champs at the state tourney in February. Los Lunas, with only one wrestler in the finals, placed fifth, and Valencia’s Carlos Montaño won his first state title.

Valencia Lady Jaguar basketball: For the second straight season, the Jags ended their year on the floor of the Pit. Valencia (21-8) saw a fourth-quarter lead slip away against No. 2 Roswell and lost in overtime, 51-50. Michelle Traynham was named as the Class 3A/4A All-Metro Player of the Year, averaging more than 12 points a game in her senior season.

Belen and Los Lunas swimming pools: For two communities that open the school facilities to the general public, Belen and Los Lunas are on the separate ends of the pool. Belen Schools is in the first stages of building a $7.2 million natatorium, funded as part of a 2010 bond passed by district voters. The current Los Lunas facility, built in 1980, needs at least $30,000 in repairs to be viable.

Basketball coaches carousel: Four of the six head-coaching positions changed over the school year. Los Lunas replaced both Chris Tapia, (see the Lady Tiger basketball entry) eventually, with Marty Zeller of Grants; and Albert Aragon with Travis Julian of Manzano. Valencia had Dominick Romero resign and Ezau Rios come in and Belen replaced Dave Marquez with first-year head coach Dereck Atencio.

More carousel: The VHS volleyball job is open after the resignation of Karen Chavez. Danny Krow took over for departed BHS boys soccer coach Brain Weems, who went to Sandia after back-to-back state title appearances. Robert Jolley took over Jaguar football for Kelley Lee. Valencia track is now in the hands of Aaron Padilla and Wes Rogers. Changes were not limited to coaches as Jason Baca moved from Valencia athletic coordinator to Los Lunas and then out the door. Eliseo Aguirre replaced Baca at VHS, leaving the LL boys soccer job vacant.

Aleona Reyes: It was a season of recovery for the Belen native, running for the Jamestown College Jimmies. The junior finished 25th at the NAIA national meet in Vancouver, Wash. on Nov. 19 after missing much of the early season with an injury. She ran the rain-soaked course in 18 minutes, 25 seconds for her second straight All-American honor. She was only the second female cross country runner for Jamestown to become a two-time All-American.

Tiger baseball complications: After leading Los Lunas to a 14-9 record, coach Robert Riggins was suspended after a tough 1-0 loss against Valencia. Riggins never returned, replaced by Pete Candelaria for two games. After an 11-9 loss to Belen, Candelaria was replaced by Daniel Harmon. Harmon went 4-2 and almost led the Tigers to an upset of Albuquerque Academy in the playoffs. After an arduous hiring process, Los Lunas hired Candelaria for the upcoming season.

Brandi Montoya, Marine: Los Lunas native “Babi Doll” Montoya had an answer for what was next after she won the Women’s International Boxing Association Youth super flyweight title belt over Christina Fuentes on Oct. 27. The 20-year-old has joined the Marines.

Los Lunas girls basketball: A tough season did not deter the Tigers from winning a district-tournament game at Miyamura, 49-43. The Tigers ended their 13-14 year under their third head coach of the season with a loss at Valencia, 59-42. Chris Tapia was relieved of his duties after charges were filed in a domestic-violence incident. He is currently in the pre-prosecution diversion program, in which all charges would be expunged upon completion. Pat Sanchez took over for Tapia and gave way to Eliseo Aguirre for the Valencia contest.

Jaguars to Greyhounds: Valencia High School had their most impactful graduating class in 2011-12. The football team saw 15 players depart and the basketball team lost their top eight players. Football coach Kelley Lee took the head coaching job at Eastern New Mexico University in Portales and several of the Jaguar semifinal team followed him, including Noah Brown. The Greyhounds went 3-7 in Lee’s first year with Brown recording 33 tackles, 11 sacks and one fumble recovery in his freshman season. Other former Jaguars are competing at colleges in the region.

Valencia girls track medley relay team: Four Lady Jag distance runners combined to take home the state medley trophy for the second year in a row. Carisma Lovato, Kaitlynn Craig, Kaylee Newey and Aizlinn Gutierrez held off second-place Belen for the title. Only Newey graduated from the two-time defending champion medley team. Amber Saiz, who anchored the Belen medley, won an individual state title in the 800 meters.

Niccolas Lux and David Garcia: Belen’s dynamic tennis duo of Lux and Garcia were not expected to make a splash at the Class 4A state doubles tournament. With continued shouts of “C’mon!,” Lux kept the excitement level high in the opening round upset of a Silver High pair before falling to a Farmington High team in the quarterfinals. The two seniors showed significant improvement over the season, but still came into the state matches unseeded.

Belen Gym facelift: Belen High School completed several renovations to the gym just before the annual volleyball tournament to start the season. The major improvement came to the air conditioning system, making the end of August tourney more comfortable than the previous year. The floor was resurfaced, with a new flying Eagle logo at center court and new scoreboards will be installed with a graphic video board, hopefully sometime in January.