For just the second time in the 61-year history of the annual Hobbs Holiday Tournament, the 2020 edition was forced to be canceled.
Mother Nature forced the cancellation in 2015 when Winter Storm Goliath wrecked havoc on Lea County. Five years later it was the COVID-19 pandemic.
While things slowly try to get back to normal, basketball fans should rejoice in knowing that plans are set and teams are booked for the 2021 edition of the HHT.
“We get excited about hosting the holiday tournament,” Hobbs girls coach Joe Carpenter said. “We get to have different teams come and to have a different environment. We get to host and show what Hobbs is all about, what our basketball and fans are all about and our community. … Our team is very proud of our town and so anytime we get a chance to show what we are made of, we enjoy that.”
The boys’ bracket will feature only one team from out of state, El Paso Mont-wood. The rest of the teams will come from around New Mexico ¬– Piedra Vista (Farmington), Pojoaque (Santa Fe), Cleveland (Rio Rancho), Las Cruces Mayfield, and Gallup will all travel to Tasker Arena and play the Eagles and Artesia.
“I feel like this is a good set of teams coming in,” Hobbs boys coach Shelby Reeves said. “Those are some good teams coming in that are going to push it to the limit. That is what you look for as you are getting ready to prepare for the rest of your season and your district.”
Cleveland is the first non-Hobbs team to win back-to-back championships – winning the title in 2018 and 2019 – since Lawton, Oklahoma accomplished the feat in 2012 and 2013. The Storm were 14-1 this past season and won the NMAA’s Class 5A COVID-19 pandemic state championship.
“It is kind of saying, in our holiday tournament, they are the team to beat,” Reeves said.
“They are always tough. They can graduate 12 and have 12 waiting on the back burner. You want to bring in teams who are going to get you ready and prepared for the rest of your season.”
Having El Paso Montwood as the only out-of-state team will be one of the biggest differences from past years to the 2021 Hobbs Holiday Tournament.
“I think just to try to get the feel back and have the holiday tournament with having more New Mexico schools,” Reeves said. “I think this will get us having it. You never know what is going to happen and you never want anybody to back out at the last minute. I think this will help us get it back going to what it used to be, and work from there.”
Two teams new to the tournament this year are Piedra Vista and Pojoaque. Both had down years in the COVID-19 season – Piedra Vista was winless (0-11) while Pojoaque went 3-8.
Montwood and Artesia each made its tournament debut in 2019. The Rams went 9-11 in Texas last winter while playing a full season despite COVID. The Bulldogs were 11-4 this past season and won their district. Mayfield finished its season at 7-5. The Trojans will be playing in the tournament for just the fourth time, and the first since 2017, while Gallup (10-2) returns for just the second time following an almost 40-year absence. The Bengals last played in the HHT back in 1972.
The Bengals are coached by Joshua Dunlap, a 2008 Hobbs High School graduate. Dunlap was also a member of the 2007-08 Eagles team that went 28-4 and won the Class 5A state championship. Reeves is looking forward to Dunlap making his return to Tasker Arena during the HHT.
“It is always great for former players to get to come home and show their players where they come from, the facility, and what it’s like to be a Hobbs Eagle,” Reeves said. “It is great that we can do that for a coach who is coaching another team who will come in and play in the holiday tournament.”
As for the girls’ bracket, the 2021 edition will be the fourth year for the Lady Eagles to show their stuff in the holiday tournament. The bracket will have three teams from Texas and one from Arizona. Canutillo, Eldorado and Pebble Hills will all make the trip from El Paso while Tucson will come from Arizona. Other schools planning to play include Las Cruces Mayfield, Grants, and Farmington – all from New Mexico.
“I think (the field) has improved. There are going to definitely be some stronger teams in this tournament,” Carpenter said. “Anytime that happens, you have to expect to have good competition, and we are excited about that.”
There will be two new teams this year – one from Arizona and another from Las Cruces. The other five teams have all played in the tournament at least once.
Tucson will be the second school from Arizona to play in the tournament; South Mountain was the first back in 2019. Las Cruces Mayfield will be the first Las Cruces school to field a girls team.
“Having new teams come is going to up the competition,” Carpenter said. “They should spice it up.”
Eldorado, Farmington and Grants all made their tournament debuts back in 2019 while Canutillo (2017-19) has been in the tournament since its inception.
“Canutillo is one of those teams that has respected the tournament and have come every year,” Carpenter said. “We have been fortunate to have them involved with our holiday tournament, and we are excited that they are going to come back.”
Eldorado made it to the championship game of the 2019 tournament, falling to the Lady Eagles 41-28.
If everything holds true, the 2021 tournament will tip off on Monday, Dec. 27 in Tasker Arena and run through Wednesday, Dec. 29.