PHOTO: Head coach Manny Otero, standing fourth from left with beard, and his West Mesa girls basketball team are state title contenders.
By Ed Nuñez
Enchantment Sports staff writer
For the third consecutive year, the West Mesa girls team captured the Metro tournament championship, by defeating highly regarded and previously unbeaten, La Cueva, by the score of 46-38. The-top ranked Mustangs were without sparkplug senior guard, Esperanza Varoz, who according to West Mesa head coach Manny Otero “is day to day with an ankle injury, I expect her back this week.”
Even without Varoz, the Mustangs used a smothering defense to limit high scoring La Cueva junior guard, Kaya Ingram to one point. “We did a good job on team defense, help side, it was a team effort” said Otero. Junior guard Emily Burke had seven steals — she averages 6.5 a game — and according to Otero, should be the Metro defensive player of the year. “We were tested early in the season, the win against then top-ranked Hobbs on a last second shot by Burke (WM won 55-54) was huge. The Mustangs have also defeated Carlsbad, Los Lunas, Las Cruces, Las Cruces Mayfield and Cleveland and now stand at 13-0 for the season. Senior guard Maiah Rivas leads the Mustangs in scoring at 11.4 points per game, followed by the sophomore transfer, Cece Barela at 9.6 points per game and Emily Burk at 9.5 points per game. “We have five scoring threats, if one girls is hot, we go to her, we just want to get the win,” said Otero.
“The biggest difference is we are shooting less 3-point shots and shooting more quality 3s. “We are averaging 60 points per game and giving up 33, so if our defense is on, we should be in every game.” Otero’s Mustangs welcomed a newcomer into the fold this year, transfer, Cece Barela. Barela who transferred from Las Vegas Robertson, “is tough, strong and physical, when we go to our small lineup, she plays the five, we are lucky to have her,” said Otero. Maiah Rivas’ uncle is former Albuquerque High standout, Dominic Rivas, who was a teammate of Otero’s on the 1993, Albuquerque High state championship team. Junior guard Jaden Castellano’s father, Danny, was also part of an Albuquerque high state basketball championship in 1990. “Both players come from great basketball families,” said Otero.
Otero, was no slouch himself on the hardwood back in the day. He averaged 16.0 points per game playing for Marist in college and, and made 323 3-points in his career.
“We spend 45-minutes-to-an-hour shooting at game speed, to be consistent. We tell the girls, ‘Put in some work, you will get better.’ ” Otero played for the legendary Jim Hulsman at Albuquerque High.
Otero’s father, Dave Otero, had a profound effect on his life and the way he coaches. “I remember his intensity, he was passionate about what he did and how he did it” said Otero.
Dave Otero was a former West Mesa star and later played along side Michael Cooper with the New Mexico Lobos in 1977. Dave Otero passed away on November 6th, 2010.
“There are memories and thoughts along with his strong presence, that I feel all the time, especially on the basketball court” said Otero. “At the Metro tournament, they played “September” (By Earth, Wind and Fire) and that was his song for his three sons. His touch is still there.”
Ed Nuñez is a play-by-play announcer for ProView Networks and a staff writer with Enchantment Sports. If you have information, tips or questions for Ed, please send to EnchantmentsportsNM@gmail.com.