EPAC has wide-open feel this time around

By Dave Wagner

After a six-year domination by Texico and Elida, the 2004 Eastern Plains Athletic Conference girls tournament has a more wide-open feel to it.
While Texico (1998-2001) and Elida (2002-03) have combined for the last six EPAC girls titles, several others could challenge in this year’s 10-school event which begins today at Texico Sports Arena.
The arena opened a year ago and will host the first three days of the event. Games on Friday and Saturday will be played at Eastern New Mexico University’s Greyhound Arena in Portales.
Four boys and four girls games are slated for today in each of Texico’s two gyms. The top seeds in each of the five-team brackets won’t play until Wednesday.
“I think it’s going to be a good tournament,” said Grady girls coach Alicia Rush, who takes her 8-3 squad into a 6:30 p.m. matchup today against Floyd (7-4).
The Lady Bronchos went 2-1 in a tournament last week at Clarendon, Texas, and Rush said the competition there should prove beneficial down the line.
“We’re playing real well at times,” she said. “I think (last week’s) tournament will help us. We learned a lot from it.”
Floyd’s Sean Wootton coached Texico’s girls last year. He still lives within a couple of blocks of the school in Texico, where his daughter attends second grade.
“I think the two favorites are the No. 1 teams on each side, Texico and Fort Sumner,” Wootton said. “Both of them have good athletic ability and good team quickness.”
Floyd and Grady are perhaps doing better than expected in terms of record, but Wootton noted that his squad played at Grady in mid-December and absorbed a 78-53 shellacking.
At the same time, he said, things are unpredictable. For example, House (8-2) owns a win over Santa Rosa but lost on Friday at Fort Sumner (7-3), which turned around and lost the next night at home to Santa Rosa.
“We’re small and young,” Wootton said. “We’re playing a lot of sophomores, a couple of freshmen and even an eighth-grader.”
Rush countered that her team is in no position to take anybody for granted.
“(Floyd has) some good shooters,” she said. “I think Sean Wootton has done a really good job with them.”
Texico (7-2) appears to be a solid favorite on the boys side despite a 61-52 loss at Jal on Saturday night. The only other boys teams at .500 or better are Floyd (5-4) and Melrose (4-4).
“We’ve got a good record, but there are several teams with enough talent to play with us,” Texico boys coach Richard Luscombe said, mentioning Floyd, Melrose and Logan (3-6).
“Logan has always been very successful at EPAC,” Luscombe said. “And (Melrose coach Casey Pack) has a good bunch — if they get hot, they’re a dangerous team.”
Luscombe is hoping Saturday’s loss serves as a wake-up call for his team.
“We’re not good enough to just say, ‘We’re Texico and we’re just going to walk on the floor and win,’” he said. “I think one of our advantages is we have a fairly good inside game. And I think our guards are playing pretty well.”