By Kevin Wilson
Portales High School concluded another year of athletics, with trophies in some sports and missed expectations in others.
The Portales volleyball team started the year with one of the more difficult tasks in the state — defending a state championship despite losing 10 seniors.
Behind second-year coach Ruth Chavez, the Lady Rams returned to the state tournament despite a 4-9 start. But St. Michael’s took advantage of Portales’ one weakness — lack of height — and claimed the Class 3A title in a four-game win.
Portales finished 13-11, with an 8-2 record in Class 3A. Chavez said during the state tournament that her team needed the tough early schedule to finish strong.
“We feel if we don’t play the bigger and better teams, we’d go (to the tournament) and choke,” Chavez said. “We don’t worry about our record. We know what we’re capable of.
“We’ll do it and do it again because it pays off where it counts.”
The Ram football team followed the same philosophy, but met a similar result in its final contest.
Portales accomplished one of its biggest goals indirectly. With an 18-11 victory over Ruidoso to conclude the regular season, the Rams put themselves in a three-way tie with the Warriors and Lovington, the defending 3A champion. Lovington was knocked out of playoff contention in the tiebreaker, despite beating Portales 29-22 earlier in the year.
The win over the Warriors also gave Portales its first District 4-3A title in 18 years, but Ruidoso got the win that counted in its return to Greyhound Stadium.
Portales had seemingly wrapped up its first state title since 1988 when Les Long scored from three yards out with 3:26 to go. However, Ruidoso erased a 22-12 deficit with two late touchdowns from Josh Adams.
A desperation pass to Nathan Goyne was knocked down with no time left, and Ruidoso was celebrating its first state title since 1985.
“The goal we were looking for was a state championship and we came up short and that hurts,” Portales coach Glen Johnson said following the game, which put Portales at 8-5. “The guys have nothing to hold their heads down about. They had a tremendous season. We can only go up from here.”
Brenda Gomez feels the same way about her basketball team, which went 19-6 and won its second state title in three seasons. “It’s what I expected,” Gomez said. “We finished at a level that I thought we were very capable of and we look to repeat next year.”
Lovington put a dent in Portales’ title hopes with a 57-44 win in the District 4-3A championship, but the Lady Rams got revenge in the title game with a 59-51 win over the Lady Wildcats.
“I was very concerned,” Gomez said, “but everybody told me that was a good thing — that was the reason we won at The Pit.”
The Ram basketball team did not reach the state title game, but took eventual champion St. Michael’s into overtime before a 53-50 defeat ended the season at 13-14.
“I thought we were real up and down,” Portales coach Mark Gallegos said, “but like always, we peaked at the right time. We won the big games that we had to. We came up a little bit short at St. Mike’s, but St. Mike’s was the best team. I was really proud of how the kids battled back.”
With the exception of the Ram tennis team, the spring sports did not approach the same levels of success as the fall sports for Portales.
The Portales softball team finished with an 8-14 record, but advanced to the regional tournament for the second straight year. Again, the Lady Rams lost to Bernalillo, which defeated Lovington 4-2 for the Class 3A title.
“We didn’t go as far as we wanted to,” Portales coach Robbie Crowley said. “I think we had the kids to make it further, but we just fell short.”
Portales loses four seniors — two outfielders and two infielders — but Crowley thinks the defense will be fine.
“Offensively, we’ll have to play it by ear,” Crowley said. “We’ll have to work on some hitting like we always do.”
The track season went better for Portales than the 2002 campaign, where no boys qualified for the state meet and the two qualifiers for the girls were held out due to injury. Portales qualified over a dozen athletes for the state meet, but Taylor Owen was the only athlete to earn points for Portales by placing fifth in the shot put.
Both Portales golf teams qualified for the state tournament. The district champion Lady Rams, however, got off to a tough first day and ended in fifth place.
“I was disappointed in our first round at the state tournament,” Gomez said. “We were experienced enough that shouldn’t have happened.
“I just hope we don’t do that again and they spend their summer trying to improve so we don’t have just two months to work on everything.”
The Rams ended up in fifth place, but showed fortitude by reaching the tournament alone. Portales needed to hit the qualifying score in each of its last three tournaments, and it did just that.
The Portales baseball team did not qualify for playoff contention, ending the year at 7-16. Greg Hill returned to the dugout as Melvin Nusser left coaching to become assistant principal. The Rams got off to a rough start and never found their way, a situation which Hill said demonstrated the need for a summer baseball program.
The Portales tennis program had its standard success, as the teams combined to go 25-6 on the season. The boys went 12-3, with all three losses coming to eventual Class 1A-3A runnerup New Mexico Military Institute.
The girls went 13-3 and claimed their second state title in three seasons. Portales defeated St. Michael’s 4-1 in the semifinals and blanked Ruidoso 5-0 in the finals.
“The first draw that we had was very difficult compared to the finals,” Portales coach Bill Wahlman said. “The match with St. Michael’s was much more difficult than playing Ruidoso. But after we won that, the girls continued to play well.”
Portales will have to fill in spots left vacant by seniors Rustin Self, Jeremy Jones, Kristen Van Wettering and Sara Bulls. Bulls and Van Wettering earned the state title in doubles, defeated teammates Rachelle Self and Hailey Quick in the title match.
“There are some good players coming back and after playing at state, they’ll be more experienced,” Wahlman said. “We have a number of eighth and ninth-grade boys that play very well.
“They don’t have varsity experience, but they are very competitive and there will be someone to move up and take over. Girl-wise, it’s the same thing.”
The athletic year came to its official conclusion Monday with the annual athletics banquet.
Jeremy Jones was selected as the Greatest Ram, while Jennie Gentry claimed the Greatest Lady Ram.