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Saracho battles long and hard to advance at state tennis

Saracho 1

Francisco Saracho with the baseline two-hander during his first round match in the Class AAAA State Boys Singles Championship Tournament, being until this week at the Jerry Cline Tennis Complex in Albuquerque, NM.

Karen Boehler
NMMI Sports Press

Higuera and Reyes

Angel Reyes with the serve while teammate Felix Higuera readys himself at the net for a possible return. The Colt doubles team lost their opening match of the State doubles tournament, but will get another chance on Friday and Saturday during the team championships.

ALBUQUERQUE — It certainly wasn’t easy, but NMMI’s No. 2 singles player, Francisco Saracho, outlasted Santa Fe Prep’s No. 1 in the opening round of the state AAAA tennis tournament, winning a marathon 0-6, 7-6, 6-4 match.

“Great comeback,” said Colt coach Will Cavin. “He just hung in there. Kind of lost it in the first set then came back and got focused. It was a great match by both players.”

Coaches from other teams were stopping by to watch the match, as the NMMI players on the sidelines tried to match the enthusiasm of the large crowd of a Griffin supporters.

Francisco Saracho serve, also during his singles match.

Francisco Saracho serve, also during his singles match.

Asked what his thoughts were after being shut out in the opening set, the sophomore sounded positive.

“I thought if he can win 6-0, I can also win 6-0. And I got those two sets.” he said.

So what did you do that made the difference?

“I started playing more consistent,” Saracho said. “I got the ball toward the net at a slower pace but still efficient.”

“It just proves you don’t take anything for granted,” Cavin said. “It was a great match. He played well and just held on.”

No. 7 seed Saracho will take on No. 2 Will McDermott, who drew a bye, at 11 a.m. Thursday in the quarterfinal round. Teammate Farid Yunes, No. 3, plays his first match at the same time vs. No. 6 Andres Garcia from Las Vegas Robertson.

Angel Reyes returns an opponent serve.

Angel Reyes returns an opponent serve.

In the opening doubles match, senior Felix Higuera and junior Angel Reyes weren’t even supposed to be competing at state, but the No. 3 NMMI doubles team upset their No. 2 teammates at the district tournament. That gave them an unseeded berth in a match vs. the No. 7 seed from Bosque Prep.

And for a while, it looked they they might make a comeback as well.

“Kind of the same thing,” Cavin said. “Came back in the second set. We were playing Bosque’s No. 2s, so the kids battled, they fought, they competed.”

And despite coming back in that second set to force a tie breaker, the Colts fell 6-2, 6-6 (7-3.)

Felix Higuera with the touch shot during a return in doubles play.

Felix Higuera with the touch shot during a return in doubles play.

“We played good,” Higuera said. “I think so. For the first moments of the game we were so nervous, we were kind of stressed. I mean, this is the state tournament, right? We’re three’s against No. 2s. So it was kind of like the adrenalin taking over. But then we said, ‘OK. Let’s stop for a second and think about it. We can do it.’ And we started battling, battling, battling until we got there.”

“But then we made some mistakes,” Reyes said. Looking ahead to Friday’s team tournament, he added “We can do it. We have two games left at least to play. So we can do this.”

And Cavin is feeling good as the tournament moves into Day 2.

“We learned a lot today, and that’s what I think the first two rounds are about, to get a chance to see some of the players you haven’t seen,” he said. “Everybody’s here for a reason, so you’ve just got to go out and play and compete and don’t leave it on the court.”

Two Lady Bronco netters sign with Henderson State

Standing, left to right: head Bronco women's tennis coach Dan O'Connell and Athletic Director Jose Barron. Seated, left to right: Thea Minor and Lorraine Banimataku.

Standing, left to right: head Bronco women’s tennis coach Dan O’Connell and Athletic Director Jose Barron.
Seated, left to right: Thea Minor and Lorraine Banimataku.

Karen Boehler
NMMI Sports Press

There’s a pipeline from the South Pacific to NMMI to Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas.

It’s a pipeline of tennis players, and two Lady Broncos are continuing the tradition of moving from NMMI to HSU.

HendersonStateUReddiesSophomores Thea Minor, who hails from Fiji, and Lorraine Banimataku, Saipan, signed their Letters of Intent Tuesday to play for the Reddies, following in the footsteps of Bronco Daneric Hazelman, who’s the current graduate assistant, and former Lady Bronco Amanda Korinihona, who’s been a Reddie for two years.

“This is a fantastic program we’ve developed, from the Pacific to NMMI to Henderson State,” said Lady Bronco coach Dan O’Connell. “I thank coach Brenda (Joiner) so much at Henderson State for investing in our kids.”

Minor and Banimataku said they’ve known Joiner and the Reddie players for several years, having played in October challenge tournaments for two years and just last spring vs. the HSU team. (NMMI only fell 5-4 to the four-year school.)

“Last year was when she told both of us she wanted to get us on the team,” Minor said. “I think she likes our attitude both on and off the court. So I think us, the Pacific Islanders, she really likes how we interact with her and other people.”

Both NMMI athletes hope to enroll in the Henderson State nursing program, which Minor said is very competitive.

“They only accept like 25 applicants a semester,” she said. “They are pretty strict when they pick their people.”

They’ll also be competitive on the court, as the Reddies, a member if the DII Great American Conference, have had strong seasons. Plus, just as they did at NMMI, the Lady Broncos will be running cross country in the fall.

With Hazelman graduating with a masters’ degree, Korinihona will take over the reins as the new grad assistant.

“We are so pleased to have Thea and Lorraine join coach Amanda Korinihona as the graduate assistant,” O’Connell said. “Thank you coach Brenda for putting all this together, and we want to continue this pipeline in the years to come.”

Both soft-spoken athletes gave credit to NMMI for helping them develop, not only as athletes.

“When I first came here, I was really quiet,” Banimataku said. “After two years at NMMI, I’ve built confidence.”

Minor agreed, saying this came about partly because she had a leadership position in the Corps, as well as from taking a leadership class.

“It gave me more confidence when I had a position. I was able to lead a group,” she said. “We developed more intellectually, also. We had an idea of how leadership is supposed to be.”

Korinihona also learned from the Institute, Banimataku said.

“Amanda said when she was here, NMMI kept her occupied. She was always doing stuff. But now that she’s at Henderson State, she has a lot of free time, and she manages her time wisely.”

The pair have one more challenge with the Broncos before heading off to their next adventure. They’ll be competing in the NJCAA National Tournament in Tyler, Texas, Saturday through Thursday.

And when it’s all over, O’Connell said, they’ll leave a hole that will be hard to fill.

“I’m going to miss Thea and Lorraine so much, and Amanda Hawkins, who’s also graduating,” he said. “Lovely kids. I’m really going to miss them. It’s been a great two years.”

Colts hoping to surprise Sandia Prep in state opener

The members of the Colt baseball team pose for a quick team pic in between games of their last home doubleheader of the regular season vs. Portales. Courtesy photo, Laura Brown

The members of the Colt baseball team pose for a quick team pic in between games of their last home doubleheader of the regular season vs. Portales. Courtesy photo, Laura Brown.

Karen Boehler
NMMI Sports Press

The Colt baseball team (9-17) squeaked into the AAAA state baseball playoffs with a No. 16 seed, meaning they’ll travel to Albuquerque Friday and Saturday to face defending champ and No. 1 seed Sandia Prep (22-4) in a two-out-of-three game match.

But despite the disparity, NMMI coach Charlie Ward thinks his team can play with the powerhouse.

“I believe it’s going to be competitive,” he said. “It’s going to be low scoring and I believe we have a chance. We’ve just got to play good baseball and support our pitchers.”

Ward knows the ’Devils will be tough.

“They’re solid one through nine,” he said. “They have athletes. They play the game of baseball the way it’s supposed to be played. They have very good pitching. You have to play the best sometime in the state tournament and we’re going to get a chance early.”

While he won’t be pitching, Ward believes the return of Gavin Maloney from the injured list will give the Colts a big confidence boost. Ward credits the sophomore with helping NMMI to a victory over AAA top seed Texico last Saturday.

“He’s one of our leaders,” the coach said. “He’s one of our top hitters. He’s going to play first base. The team all knows we’re a better team with Gavin in the lineup, so that’s a big boost of confidence. And I think that (return) made each player’s confidence and ability rise. They feel more positive as a team.”

With Maloney in the infield, Ward will stick with the pitching lineup he’s used since district: Eli Aguilar in Game 1 and Michel Hinojos Game 2.

“Then if necessary, we’ll let the chips fly and figure it out, but we’re focused on Game 1,” Ward said. “Eli will probably go against their big lefty, 6-foot-5 Beau Williams, or they’ve got another 6-2 lefty. They’ve got pitchers, but we’ve just got to compete and back our defense up and do the little things right as a team.”

Ward doesn’t expect the Colts to get many hits off Sandia Prep. They just have to take advantage of the opportunities they’re given.

“Runs are going to be limited,” he said. “In situational hitting, you’ve got to execute, when you’re given the opportunity. We expect it to be low scoring.”

And, he said, coming in as the 16 seed means there’s no pressure on the Colts.

“We’re 9-17, but honestly we believe we’re a lot better than that,” Ward said. “We believe we’re in the top 10, but with the injuries and all that, that’s life. It is what it is. We have confidence they’re not going to be seeing a 16 seed. They’re going to be seeing a team that will play. And these kids believe that. So we’re going to get at it and battle and we have no pressure on us. The pressure is on them, being state champs. Hopefully our kids will play hard, play loose and have fun. We’re hoping for positive memories.”

Game 1 is set for Friday at 5 p.m. at Sandia. Game 2 will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday, with Game 3, if necessary, to follow immediately after.

Mabson signs with UT Martin

Nehemiah Mabson signs his intent to play next season for the Skyhawks, along with his Bronco basketball coaches: assistant coach Jake White (left) and head coach Ralph Davis (right).

Nehemiah Mabson signs his intent to play next season for the Skyhawks, pictured here with his Bronco basketball coaches: assistant coach Jake White (left) and head coach Ralph Davis (right).

Karen Boehler
NMMI Sports Press

UniversityofTenneseeMartinSkyhawksBronco big man Nehemiah Mabson is headed back to the region he hails from, as the Kentucky native signed his Letter of Intent to attend the University of Tennessee Martin. And while basketball is obviously the big reason he picked the Skyhawks, there are other reasons as well.

“It sets me up to better my future as far as education and being a pro, which is my dream,” he said.

Mabson in the paint against New Mexico Junior College on 7-Jan-16.

Mabson in the paint against New Mexico Junior College on 7-Jan-16.

Mabson will study sports management with an eye on eventually becoming a coach, but before that, he’d like to continue to play ball.

“NBA or professional. It doesn’t matter. Get paid for what I like to do,” he said.

UTM is an NCAA D-I school in the Ohio Valley Conference, and under interim head coach Anthony Stewart, the Skyhawks finished 21-13 in 2014-15 and 20-15 this past season, closing out the season in the second round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament.

“He made a great choice,” said Bronco coach Ralph David. “They play in the Ohio Valley Conference, and it fits his style of play. They have a great staff over there. They’ve had a lot of success and it’s also important for him to have the opportunity to perform in the tournament.”

Stewart is happy to have signed the 6-6, 250-pound forward.

“Nehemiah is a great kid who is skilled both inside and out,” Stewart said. “He posted good numbers in junior college and he also had Division-I experience. He will be a key part of our program moving forward. I’m really excited that he’s my first commitment.”

Mabson only played a year for NMMI, but Davis said he will be missed.

“First and most importantly, he is a great young man off the court. The type of guy you want to interact with and know aside from basketball. I think most of this school community would agree in their interactions with him, so it was a pleasure to have him with us, unfortunately for just one year, but we definitely enjoyed it.”

“He’s a great kid, and he really grew immensely as far as mental toughness on the floor and becoming a better teammate this year,” said assistant coach Jake White. “Seeing where we got him in the fall to where he is now, it’s almost a, I won’t give him a 180 degree change, but it’s like 165. He’s almost there, so he definitely grew as a young man, and just like coach Davis said, he’s a great guy off the court.”

Mabson credits a lot of his growth, both personally and in basketball, to the Institute.

“NMMI has given me a lot of structure, as far as the corps,” he said. “The coaches are great. They set me up the best way possible to pursue my dream as far as getting back to the DI level. Also NMMI has taught me a lot about adversity. Our record wasn’t the best this year, but we kept playing hard throughout the season regardless of our record. It just taught me to keep going.”

The sophomore led the Broncos in scoring with 15.6 points per game, and rebounding (5.8 per game.) He expects to step onto the court as a starter for the Skyhawks, and with a brother who played in the NFL, Davis is confident he can make it as far as his dreams take him.

“It’s in his blood,” Davis said. “Now that’s football, and if you’ve seen the kid play, being 6-6 and 245, he’s probably playing the wrong sport. But that being said, he does have a wealth of natural talent. If he puts his mind to it, there’s no doubt he can accomplish some of his goals.”

“The good thing about him is he really wants to be successful, so we hope everything works out,” White agreed. “Like coach said, (UTM) is the best of his options, and if he goes in with the right mindset, he should be a very successful student-athlete.”

Colt tennis hoping for success at state tourney

Members of the Colt tennis team take a break from practice Monday afternoon for quick team pic. Top: coach Will Cavin. Second row: Luis Fontes, Felix Higuera & Allen DeGroot. Third Row: Angel Reyes, Jose Salazar & Francisco Saracho. Bottom: Farid Yunes.

Members of the Colt tennis team take a break from practice Monday afternoon for quick team pic. Top: coach Will Cavin. Second row: Luis Fontes, Felix Higuera & Allen DeGroot. Third Row: Angel Reyes, Jose Salazar & Francisco Saracho. Bottom: Farid Yunes.

Karen Boehler
NMMI Sports Press

Colt tennis coach Will Cavin is excited about the upcoming state tennis tournament in Albuquerque.

“It’s going to be an interesting tournament without a doubt,” he said. “I think we’re going to have a lot of wins and hopefully not too many losses.”

Four Colts will compete Wednesday and Thursday at the Jerry Kline Complex on Louisiana Blvd. in the singles and doubles competition.

Farid Yunes is the No. 3 seed in singles behind Robertson’s Warren Fulgenzi and St. Michael’s Will McDermott. After a Wednesday bye, Cavin said Yunes won’t have it easy.

“Farid is going to have a challenge in his first match, as he’s going to have to play the winner of Robertson’s No. 2 and Sandia Prep,” the coach said. “I’m assuming Robertson is going to win that match, so he’ll have a challenge from Robertson’s No. 2 (Andres Garcia), but I’m confident that he can win that match.”

Winning would put him in the semi-finals, where Cavin thinks he might meet teammate Francisco Saracho, who’s seeded No. 7

“He’s got an opening match at 7 o’clock Wednesday that I feel pretty confident that he’ll win,” the coach said. “Then he has to play Will McDermott from St. Mike’s, who he lost to earlier in the season, but I think it will be another good match.”

With Fulgenzi expected to make it to the title match on the top side of the bracket, Cavin is looking forward to a rematch there.

“I hope we’ll get another crack at beating him in singles in the individual part,” he said.

Because they took third at the district tournament, the doubles team of Angel Reyes and Felix Higuera comes in unseeded. But again, the coach is thinking positive.

“I think they’ll win their first match, which is against another third-place team (from Bosque), and I think they have a really good shot of getting into the semifinals and we can see where they go from there,” Cavin said.

The team tournament starts Friday at Albuquerque, and while NMMI comes in seeded No. 4 — lower than Cavin was hoping — he’s not disappointed.

“It’s all about records and records against the opponents you’ve played,” he said. “So I think that the New Mexico Activities Association assessment one through four was probably pretty accurate, since Bosque did end up beating Robertson just last week in a dual match, and of course we did lose to St. Mike’s early in the season without two of my top players. But that’s how those things go. It’s going to be an interesting state tournament as far as the team goes.”

Team play opens at 3:30 p.m. vs. Santa Fe Prep, and Cavin said they’ll have to play tough against the Griffins.

“They’re probably not a team to take for granted, because they’re the five seed and we’re No. 4. We’re going to go up there and play hard and expect to have to work to win.”

A victory there would most likely pit NMMI against No. 1 seed Bosque Prep, but even there, Cavin sounds confident.

“I think we’ll be competitive with them, even though they’re the No. 1 seed and we’re the No. 4 seed,” he said. “That’s why you play. If it’s an automatic, they’d already be state champions.”

And if they do get to face the Cardinals again?

“To be honest with you, I think we can beat Robertson 6-3 or 5-4 even though we lost to them 7-2. It just is what it is when you get to the tennis matches.”

Team brackets
Boys singles brackets
Boys doubles brackets