By Russell Gurule
This is a case of two schools taking different paths to find the lost city of gold which we call the blue trophy. Los Lunas has dealt with the pressure of getting to the final in Zanen Zeller’s last year to bring back a title for the first time ever to the village of Los Lunas. Valley has spent this season just trying to find the right ingredients to be a better team. Most did not expect this match up to happen. If you were to look at the tournament bracket. It would be safe to assume a final with Los Lunas and Hope Christian. But, my, how things change as Valley caught a promising wind all the way to the final.
4A State Championship Game
Los Lunas High School Tigers vs. Valley High School Vikings
Game Time: 4 p.m.
Where: Dreamstyle Arena (the Pit)
Los Lunas High School Tigers: The Tigers have fulfilled their role as favorites for the state title since the beginning of the season. With a strong lineup, the Tigers have been dominate all year, rarely seeing the losing side of the scoreboard. With only losses to previously unbeaten Las Cruces, 5A final contender Santa Fe, and upstart Gallup. Los Lunas has steamrolled the competition with an 18 game win streak heading into the final.
Since taking over the Los Lunas program, Head Coach Travis Julian has built a program that has become a power in the state of New Mexico. Here he describes the Tigers’ success.
“The basketball program had only intermittent success for much of the history of the school. When I took the job one of the first things I noticed when I walked in the gym and looked up on the wall was no district championships much less a state championship. So with that in mind you can see why we are proud of what we have been able to build here. In seven seasons, we have had six seasons of 20 wins or more. We have won 5 District Championships and were runner-up in our district the other two years and one of those years we won the District Tournament Championship. We were state runner-ups in 2014 and made it to the Final Four in our class the last two years and in 2012.”
The Tigers are led by Biola University-bound Zeller who has to be considered one of the very top players in all the state.
The roster is filled with many unsung heroes. AJ Garcia has provided a solid post game and three point shots to keep the defense honest. Darius Haywood who might be a star on any other team is a smooth forward fully capable of picking up any slack. Joseph Dominguez has been the steady hand with ball handling and shooting. Bryce Santana has been solid off the bench.
The Tigers are a joy to watch for any purist of the game. They never take a bad shot, they have all the intangibles of what you would consider a champion. Their overall record is 27-3 with an impressive 8-0 record in district.
The Tigers have marched through the tournament with dominance. Winning all their games by 15 or more points. There just might not be an answer to stopping the Los Lunas express.
Valley High School Vikings: The Vikings are a long-standing school situated in Albuquerque’s North Valley. Lead by long time Head Coach Joe Coleman, Valley struggled in 4A district 6 which made a strong case of being the best district in 4A. Each week Valley had to go against district rivals Hope Christian, Highland, and Del Norte. All of which made the tournament.
Valley went through the season without any true notable wins. Carrying a 13-13 record into the tournament, the Vikings have been transformed into a different team gaining confidence with each game.
The roster for Valley is fairly new and inexperienced. Yet they have been tested by the fire and come out with new confidence. This group has had to play like a team instead of individuals in order to make the final.
The biggest contributor during this run has been guard Derick Chavez, with long range shooting, Chavez has kept the Vikings in many a game throughout this run. Seyi Oyeku has been the other staying force with solid defense. Jevon Baker has been the go to in the post keeping the defense honest.
Their tournament run began with a very lucky miss by Highland in regulation which sent the game into overtime. Valley moved on where they faced the daunting task of defeating Hope Christian. The Vikings came away with the most improbable win. Yet, Silver provided another challenge. Valley escaped again with victory to now face maybe one of the toughest task in beating Los Lunas. Valley has an overall record of 16-13 with a district record of 6-3.
The Vikings are still a work in progress. We’ll know plenty more after the final.
What to expect: Expect anything from Valley as they try to find a scheme to slow down Zeller and the Tigers. The Vikings more than likely will be very patient on offense in possibly a slow down game to keep the game close. Los Lunas can be counted on to run its offense to precision. This will be more of a game of strategy where each coach may pull something out of his bag of tricks. As said earlier, expect anything from this game. This final will be memorable one no matter who wins. The improbable could happen or Los Lunas ends a story book season on a high. It all starts tonight.