30 Lea County basketball players receive All-District honors
By Tom Mulherin
Following a season in which six of its basketball teams outside of Hobbs earned a spot in the state tournament, Lea County has been rewarded with a plethora of All-District selections and honorable mentions in recent weeks.
Those six squads accounted for 26 of the 30 total All-District honorees from teams not named the Eagles or Lady Eagles, headlined by a whopping number of selections from groups that thrived in district play like the Eunice girls, Tatum girls and Tatum boys.
The Lady Cardinals, who lost in a state quarterfinal to finish their season at 20-7 overall and 6-3 in District 4-3A, had three selections and two honorable mentions on their own. As the No. 8 all time scorer in New Mexico girls’ basketball, Harria Mendoza was one of the selections and was named district player of the year despite missing several games at the end with a torn ACL.
Of course she was going to make the All-District Team by averaging 20.3 points per game, as well as reigning Lea County Co-Player of the Year Jada Jones with her 11 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. Head coach Jimmie Jones was proud of those two for all their contributions, but after Mendoza went down with injury and as Jada Jones worked her way back into basketball shape at the start of the year, he also loved how the rest of the team stepped up against adversity.
Heck, several players needed to play out of position all year for Eunice, and still helped it rank No. 1 in the state for a period. Those efforts were enough for Lexxie Dean to get a selection. Xitlaly Ontiveros and Aide Frazier were also recognized with honorable mentions.
“We’ve got a great group of kids,” Jimmie Jones said. “We had some kids that stepped up and played hard, and played some positions they weren’t used to playing. … I think (adversity) caused us to not finish where we probably wanted to be, but at the same time, some of those other kids stepped up and did a fantastic job.”
As those five players helped the Lady Cards mostly dominate throughout the season, the Tatum Lady Coyotes was another team to sport a slew of selections before getting knocked off in a state quarterfinal.
All five starters for Tatum were named to the District 4-2A All-District Team, led by top players Celeste Jimenez and Maddy Rice. The two juniors made significant contributions on both ends, especially in points, steals and rebounds. But it takes a team to get to a 16-11 record with a 7-0 finish in District 4-2A, so Sarah Coombes, Abigail Duran and Taylor Graham also made the cut for the All-District team with their performances.
“The girls did a good job throughout the year,” said Tatum head coach Rafael Roybal. “We had a lot of obstacles in our way. We worked the first half of the year and we did good, and then we had to stop and start over with getting Maddy up to where she could perform (coming back from injury). It kind of slowed us down but I thought the girls did a really good job.”
Within the same school, the Tatum boys’ basketball team didn’t go undefeated in district play like the girls, but still had admirable enough performances to finish with the top seed for the District 4-2A Tournament. It posted a 16-9 overall record with a 5-1 mark in district play, and went on to qualify for the state tournament as the No. 7 seed before falling in the first round.
This served as a resurgent year after the Coyotes won just five games in 2016-17, and it was led by starters Sebastian Jimenez, Omar Pinon, Cristian Marizcal, Aaron Hinojosa and John Sharp. All of them outside of Sharp made the All-District team, while Sharp earned an honorable mention.
The other teams in the county might not have had quite the same success in district play, but that didn’t stop them from earning a plentiful amount of selections.
In Lovington, the girls’ team went into a four-way tie in District 4-5A with a 3-3 record after improving remarkably from the start of the year. Players were performing much more confidently by the end despite lacking aggression at the start, and five different players proved to be near the top of the district with recognition.
Senior Kamryn Cunningham used toughness and grit to be First Team All-District, while other senior Alyssa Dominguez’ presence in the paint helped her make the second team. Rylee Mapes also made the second team, while Alexis Borunda and Hayley Marquez were each honorable mentions.
Head coach Casey Pack appreciated the efforts and leadership Cunningham, Dominguez and Borunda showed in parts of the season as seniors, and is excited for the two sophomores to return with the confidence the recognition gives.
“It was good (to have all those selections),” he said. “We had three seniors there we wish we had for another year. They’re seniors and they’re moving on. But Rylee being a sophomore being all-district team is something to be said, and Hayley being honorable mention. So we’ve got some good things coming back.
“For the most part, I’m proud of my girls.”
The Lovington boys also had some selections, but not many with a third-place finish in District 4-5A. Head coach Ezau Rios felt a few more of his guys could have been selections, but was still bullish on the abilities his only two selections, Alijah Ballard and Gage Sandoval, showed throughout the season.
“They were our go-to guys all year,” he said.
Back over in Eunice, the Cardinals thrived all year behind their defense and rebounding. Sophomore Avante Stevens was a big part of that, sometimes guarding top opposing players while averaging 13 rebounds per game in district play. He would split those defending duties with his brother Cameron Santa Cruz, as well as with Tari York and Kari York.
Tari York was perhaps the team’s best scorer, helping him join Stevens and Santa Cruz as District 4-3A All-District Team selections. Kari York was an honorable mention.
“They’re all amazing athletes,” said head coach Robbie Robinson. “As the year progressed, we only got better and better. Avante, he was hitting the boards hard. … As for Cameron, he did it all for us.
“As for Tari York, he was point guard, controlled the game for us. (He) controlled the offense. … With him and his brother, we had to have them.”
The only two teams that didn’t make the state tournament this year were the Jal boys and girls’ basketball teams, but both still boasted some All-District recognition.
Senior Freddy Carrillo and junior Gavin Trevino each earned selections in District 4-2A for the boys despite the team placing fourth in the district with a 2-4 record (7-16 overall).
As for the rebuilding girls, who didn’t have a senior on the team that got consistent minutes, junior Jocelyn Hernandez and sophomore Rylee Crawford were selected All-District for the Lady Panthers (5-20, 1-6 District 4-2A). There were some games where the two would be the only scorers for Jal, so each played a significant role during the season.