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A look back on top sports stories of the school year

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Summer is officially here and the school year is over. So it is a good time to look back on the top sports stories at the collegiate and prep levels during the past academic year.

10) Las Cruces High school wrestler Avery Atma truly suffers for his craft. Atma, a senior, won his third straight state title in Rio Rancho in February after suffering a hairline fracture of his collarbone in the semifinals and a possible torn knee ligament in the final.

Atma finished with a 31-0 record – his second straight undefeated season – and won the New Mexico 5A title at 126 pounds.

Las Cruces freshman Alyssa Sedillo won the girls state 5A title at 100 pounds, while Centennial’s Tye Barker won the 5A title at 138 pounds. It was Barker’s second straight state title.

9) The New Mexico State University women’s basketball team had a tough year – battling Covid with multiple games having to be rescheduled. The Aggies never seemed to find their rhythm and had difficulty playing a full 40 minutes of basketball en route to a disappointing season.

Athletics Director Mario Moccia declined to renew the contract of fifth-year coach Brooke Atkinson and hired Jody Adams-Birch as her successor.
Adams-Birch brings a serious winning pedigree to Las Cruces.

She is the all-time winningest women’s basketball coach at Wichita State and she played for four years at the University of Tennessee under legendary head coach Pat Summit.

In Knoxville, Adams-Birch was a key part of three Southeastern Conference championship teams and a national championship team in 1991.

8) Track athletes at Organ Mountain High competed under a new name after being Oñate for three decades, but still experienced the same level of success under legendary track coach Dave Nuñez.

The Knights brought home three individual state championships in 5A this May and a handful of other strong performances at state including several school records being broken at the big meet.

Senior James Limon set a school record in winning the state 5A title in the 400 meters, often considered the most difficult running event in track, while teammate and fellow senior Jonathan “J.T.” Torres won the boys pole vault. In the girls competition, sophomore Shaolin Munir won the title in javelin.

7) It was a banner year for high school and college golf in southern New Mexico. The Centennial High girls team won the school’s first-ever state team title in golf, whether boys or girls, in 5A competition, while the Mesilla Valley Christian boys won the school’s first boys state title since 2005 in A-3A.

Organ Mountain’s Eleanor Warden won the individual state title at 5A as an eighth-grader, edging defending champion Alex Armendariz of Centennial by 3 strokes.

The New Mexico State University women’s golf team won its seventh Western Athletic Conference championship in eight years and 17th conference title in program history and advanced to the NCAA regional in Albuquerque, where the Aggies finished 11th.

6) Both the Centennial High School and Mesilla Valley Christian softball teams had storybook runs through the postseason tournament but did it the hard way.

Centennial, seeded No. 2, had to work its way through the consolation bracket to reach the state 5A title game, where the Hawks lost to eventual state champion Carlsbad. The Hawks had to win three do-or-die games in one day to reach the final.

Mesilla Valley Christian, seeded No. 5, made a similar run in the state A-2A playoffs. The SonBlazers also marched through the consolation bracket and were one win away from also getting to the state title game. 

5) The Las Cruces High School football team started out its season 1-3 but ended up advancing to the state final four in 5A, where the Bulldawgs gave Cleveland High all it could handle before eventually losing.

The Bulldawgs won two playoff games including a memorable revenge game against crosstown rival Centennial to reclaim the mythical city championship. Earlier in the year, Centennial overcame a late 27-point deficit to beat Las Cruces 42-41.

4) The New Mexico State football team has a new coach and a new attitude heading into the fall.

Jerry Kill was hired after a 2-10 season in 2021. Kill has a well-deserved reputation for turning around programs, most notably at the University of Minnesota in the Big Ten. During spring practice, sessions were open to the public and optimism is the word heading into the new season.

3) The New Mexico State University baseball team suffered through a frustrating, up-and-down regular season but caught fire at the end and squeaked into the WAC tournament. The Aggies ran the table in Mesa, Arizona, going 4-0 to win the conference tournament championship and earned a spot in the NCAA tournament. In the Corvallis, Oregon, regional, New Mexico lost to No. 3 national seed Oregon State in extra innings before being eliminated by Vanderbilt.

2) The Las Cruces High boys basketball team’s quest for a state title ended with a heartbreaking overtime loss to Volcano Vista in the state 5A game in March. Both the Bulldawgs and Volcano Vista were undefeated going into game.

The Bulldawgs were led by a trio of seniors William “Deuce” Benjamin, Isaiah Carr and Kaden Self. During their time together, they made three straight trips to the state title game, winning in 2020.

1) The New Mexico State University men’s basketball team had a season that will long be remembered by Aggie Nation – for a couple of positive achievements and one bittersweet one.

The Aggies won their first NCAA tournament game in 29 years, beating the University of Connecticut before losing a tight game with Arkansas in the second round. Not even 24 hours after that loss, head coach Chris Jans announced that he was leaving Las Cruces to take the head coaching job at Mississippi State.

That ended a stellar five-year run under Jans, who won four WAC titles and took the team to the NCAA tournament three times.

The Aggies hired Greg Heiar, who had coached under and played for Jans and had most recently guided Northwest Florida State College to the national junior college championship.