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Dani Ross was a senior on last season’s Los Lunas girls basketball team, which won its third straight state championship in March. She’s seen here shooting in a game against Bloomfield in the quarterfinals of the state championships, which would be the last game the team played with fans in the stands before the COVID-19 pandemic closed the tournament to the public.

It was certainly a unique year for athletes across Valencia County, New Mexico and the country. Despite the fact COVID-19 shut down prep sports for the year in early March, the athletes of Valencia County were still able to accomplish plenty. With the year coming to an end, lets take a look back at some of those accomplishments in the top stories of the year.

1. COVID-19 pandemic shuts down sports

On March 11, COVID-19 finally made its way to New Mexico after it traveled around the world and throughout the country. While the first case in the state was announced by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, the first day of the New Mexico Activities Association boys basketball tournament was happening in The Pit.

The tournament would end up being the last prep event of the year, finished behind closed doors as public health orders went into effect preventing mass gatherings, with a matchup between Espanola Valley and Gallup the last game of the year to have spectators.

After a two week pause, it was announced that schools would finish out the semester in remote learning, and as result, the spring sports season was canceled.

Spirit lost out on its state championship, while spring sports such as baseball, softball and track and field were canceled just weeks into the season.

An attempt at a fall sports season was unsuccessful, as due to rising case numbers across the state, Gov. Lujan Grisham didn’t amend the public health order to allow for competitions to occur, pushing volleyball and cross country to the spring.

Currently, the sports season is scheduled to begin on Feb. 1.

2. Los Lunas girls basketball makes it three straight state titles

The Los Lunas girls basketball team won their third straight state championship in March, but this one was unique in that no one was there to see it.

The Tigers beat Kirtland Central in the title game, 47-33 and ended the year on a 22 game winning streak. LLHS didn’t lose once in 2020, with their last loss coming to Piedra Vista on Dec. 26, 2019.

The game was close in the first half, with the Tigers holding a seven point lead at halftime, but blew the game open in the second half and controlled the game the rest of the way on their way to the title.

Led by their trio of juniors in Natalie Jojola, Feleena Gabaldon and Mia Guest, the Tigers were able to end the VC sports calendar on a high note.

3. Cailean Romero makes history as first female wrestler from Valencia County to compete in the state championships

Cailean Romero of Belen finished in third place at 113 pounds this year, making history competing in the first sanctioned championships for female wrestlers in New Mexico.

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Cailean Romero, a junior at BHS, won a third place medal in the inaugural girls wrestling state championships in Rio Rancho in February. 

The tournament, which took place alongside the boys at the Santa Ana Star Center in Feburary, was the first since the NMAA sanctioned girls wrestling during June of 2019.

Romero competed in the girls wrestling exhibitions that were put on by the NMAA in previous years, but no medals were handed out during those tournaments.

In addition to her third place finish in the state championships, Romero was district two champion in her weight class.

4. Three county wrestlers win state championships

Valencia County continued to find success on the wrestling mat this year with three county athletes winning state championships. Jonathan Gurule and Santiago Salas took first at 113 pounds and 195 pounds respectively. Gurule won on a 6-2 decision, while Salas won with a sudden victory.

Dylan Gonzales of Belen was the third champion from the county, winning on a fall over Damian Gonzales of Los Alamos at 4:27.

As a team, the Tigers finished in second place behind Aztec with 12 of their 14 wrestlers placing, while the Eagles finished in fourth place and had six place and all but one score.

5. Valencia boys basketball makes history

For the first time in school history, the Valencia Jaguars boys basketball team reached the quarterfinals of the state championships in March. While the Jaguars ended up falling to eventual state champion Valley Vikings, they beat No. 8 seed Taos in the first round to reach the Pit. Led by Jacob Mattox, who signed to play at Central Wyoming College, the team was able to set a new standard for the program. On the year, the Jaguars went 18-13 and third in the district.

6. County athletes move on to college sports

In 2020, Valencia County saw numerous athletes announce their intentions to continue their athletic and academic careers at universities around the country.

Los Lunas had the most signings of the county schools, but all three Valencia County High Schools sent at least one athlete on to the next level.

The Lady Tigers basketball team had four players announce their intentions to play at the next level in 2020, with Dani Ross, a spring graduate, going to Snow College in Utah, while 2021 graduates Guest, Gabaldon and Jojola committed to Colorado Christian, Adams State and Western Colorado, respectively to play in college.

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Julie Logan, who graduated from Valencia in May, is continuing her softball career at Bradley University in Illinois. She is one of numerous athletes from the county to move on to the next level. 

Los Lunas football saw Tyler Kiehne commit and sign with UCLA, while Bryce Santana and Walter Baca are members of the Lobo football program.

The Tiger softball program had two signings as well, as Edyn Lopez signed with Eastern New Mexico and Emma Davids signed with Garden City Community College in Garden City, Kan.

Valencia saw Julie Logan commit to play softball at Bradley University and Mattox to Central Wyoming College.

Belen grad Makayla Martinez signed to play at Luna Community College and was the only signing for the Eagles.

7. Carlos Carrasco, Shaun Reed step down as baseball coaches at Valencia, Los Lunas high schools

There will be new baseball coaches at both Los Lunas and Valenica this spring in the event the season is able to occur.

After more than a decade in charge at Valencia, Carlos Carrasco announced he was stepping down from the position in April to spend more time with his family.

Carrasco led the Jaguars program for the majority of its existence and was very succesful in his time leading the program.

He was replaced by VHS alum Carlos Ramirez, who played college baseball at New Mexico Highlands.

Ramirez is planning to integrate more technology into the program.

Reed stepped down after four years at the helm at Los Lunas and was replaced by a familiar face in Paul Cieremans, who previously led the Tiger softball program before stepping down prior to the 2019-20 school year.

Sports writer

Cameron Goeldner grew up in Boulder, Colo., and attended the University of New Mexico. He covers everything sports for all Valencia County schools.

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