Volleyball, soccer and cross country get underway this Monday as Lea County high school teams prepare for the upcoming season – with the Jal volleyball team kicking off the season for the county Thursday at a tournament in Wink, Texas.
Each team has its own storylines, its own obstacles to overcome and expectations to meet.
As I sat back and thought about it all, three Lea County storylines instantly came to mind.
But the hiring of Gleghorn in January brings optimism, energy and excitement to a program desperate for it.
Gleghorn’s no-huddle, pass-happy spread offense is a drastic change to the ground-and-pound philosophy of previous coach Bruce Dollar. The offense seems to be a perfect fit for a town that loves its up-tempo, full-court pressing basketball.
Add to it Gleghorn’s 11-year head coaching resume that’s seen him go 90-34 overall, win four state titles and have a knack for turning programs around (or starting a program from scratch in the case of Mesilla Valley Christian) along with surrounding himself with a strong coaching staff and there’s a reason for excitement for the Black and Gold supporters.
I’ll admit, I’m incredibly intrigued to see what the Eagles look like when Aug. 31 comes around when Hobbs opens the season against Gadsden in Anthony, N.M.
Expectations must be tempered, however. Remember, this is a program that has lost 14 of its last 17 games, including going 2-8 last season and losing seven of those games by 25 points or more. Success equals improvement on the field – not necessarily a high win total (which the Eagle coaching staff and players are still shooting for – as they should be).
For three seasons, I covered Lovington as it went from a 2-9 squad in 2006 to a 9-4 team in 2008 where it lost in the state title game to a loaded Portales squad.
I was promoted to sports editor in the spring of 2009 and took over the Hobbs beat, but I knew I was leaving a Lovington football beat that was going to be strong for years to come.
Three seasons later, the Wildcats have added three state championship trophies to their mantel (I’d like to think I’m not a jinx, but this evidence may prove otherwise) and head into this season looking to join rare company in New Mexico prep football history.
Only five New Mexico football programs have won four or more consecutive state championships – Animas (Seven, 1984-90), Clovis (five, 1981-85), Artesia (four, 1966-69), Carrizozo (four, 1969-72) and Fort Sumner (four, 2005-08).
Lovington, which owns the second-most state football titles in New Mexico with 18 and is fifth in wins since 1950 with 399, has a great shot this season to make it four in a row as it returns plenty from a team many didn’t expect to win a state title last season.
The Wildcats lost so much from a 2010 team that scored 40 or more points in 12 of its 13 games (including over 60 points three times) on its way to a state title, but Lovington transformed itself into a defensive team and allowed seven points or less six times (including twice in the playoffs) on its way to a third straight title.
I envision Lovington being geared more toward the 2011 team this season than the 2009-10 teams with defense being its strength (which is more toward Quinones’ personality and coaching style).
Only Hot Springs (seven consecutive titles, 1987-93), Texico (six, 2006 - present) and West Mesa (five, 1988-1992) have won four or more consecutive state titles.
The Lady Coyotes will have a great shot at No. 4 as long as three-time Class 1A Player of the Year Devanne Sours is on the court. The 6-foot Sours is one of the best volleyball players in the state, regardless of classification, and her ability to do so many things on the court makes her a dangerous weapon.
Tatum returns six players from a season ago and will be tested with big school tournaments in Clovis and Roswell along with a pair of matchups against six-time defending Class 2A state champ Texico.