Rick Wright: Inspiring Lobo’s Women’s Team Is The Best Story Of A Tough 2021

The UNM women’s basketball team celebrate their Mountain West Conference championship after beating Colorado State in the second of two straight games in an empty pit in March. (Roberto E. Rosales / Journal)

In a sporting year in New Mexico full of complications, story # 1 is simplicity itself.

The hard thing has started.

And, yeah, things got tough, really tough. Faced with some of the country’s toughest coronavirus restrictions for another year, New Mexicans continued to find a way.

If that meant Lobos and Aggies were playing “home games” in Texas, Utah, or Arizona, living in hotels without setting foot in a real restaurant, so be it.

If that meant wearing a face mask while playing soccer, basketball, or volleyball, or wrestling, or running 3 miles, well, fine. To swim? Glasses, maybe, but no masks.

If that meant traveling to other states (or other countries), being repeatedly tested for COVID and facing quarantine for the ability to trade punches and kicks in arenas empty, why not?

Who, however, is the poster child for the tenacity, dedication, insight (yes, that’s right) that New Mexico athletes, coaches, administrators, and even fans have displayed throughout. of the year ?

Candidates abound. But the winner here is… the University of New Mexico women’s basketball team, which not only survived, but thrived through a chaotic 2021 year.

In any year approaching par, a change of coach to the top of UNM men’s basketball would be a virtual lock to be the best story of the year. It happened in 2021, with Richard Pitino, son of a coaching legend, taking the reins after the release of Paul Weir. But this year has been as close to normal as Lobo’s men have been for a winning season.

Last year in this space, the choice for the main story was the absence of the Isotopes – an austere and sad symbol of the COVID-dominated year that 2020 was. The return of “Topes”, of course, was. a positive and welcome development.

Exactly what voters’ outright rejection of a football-specific stadium bond issue in Albuquerque says about our community is widely open to debate, and certainly, a candidate in history of the year.

Two former Lobos, Courtney Frerichs and Josh Kerr, have won Olympic track and field medals. There is no bigger stage, even in a COVID-crippled Games in Tokyo.

Courtney Frerichs celebrates the silver medal for the United States following the women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase final at the 2020 Summer Olympics on Wednesday, August 4, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP Photo / Charlie Riedel)

Biggest Stage: Former Lobo and Valley Viking Teton Saltes won the Wuerffel Trophy, “presented to the FBS player who best combines exemplary community service with leadership achievements on and off the pitch.” Carlsbad left-hander Trevor Rogers’ brilliant rookie season earned him a spot in the Major League Baseball All-Star game.

Miami Marlins starting pitcher Trevor Rogers of Carlsbad throws in the first inning of a baseball game against the New York Yankees on Saturday, July 31, 2021, in Miami. (AP Photo / Lynne Sladky)

From the world of sports to high school, the big stories of the COVID era have continued to come. These, however, are the sole domain of Journal prep writer James Yodice, whose coverage, year after year, is virtually flawless. I could say the same for his taste for burgers.

So what did the Lobo women accomplish in 2021, under such trying conditions?

Glad you asked.

They started the season with a 4-0 record, established on the road in December 2020 after canceling the home game of their pre-Mountain West Conference schedule. They swept their opening streak from Mountain West, Nevada, then saw their two-game streak in Utah postponed due to two positive COVID tests (neither players nor coaches) during their trip.

The team spent six days in quarantine at a Utah hotel.

“Honestly, it wasn’t as bad as you might think,” Lobos forward Shaiquel McGruder told The Journal’s Ken Sickenger.

We will take her at her word.

The Lobos then traveled to Las Vegas, Nevada for games that were originally “home” games for the Lobos in Canyon, Texas, separating from the UNLV. Two games against San Jose State were called off when SJSU withdrew from its conference schedule.

On January 20, the Lobos were allowed to come home and train, but not play, at the Rudy Davalos Center. At the end of the month, they split two “home” games against Fresno State at West Texas State A&M in Canyon.

After sweeping the state of San Diego on the road, the Lobos then took an 18-day hiatus. During that time, two games at Colorado State and two more in Wyoming were postponed because one Lobo tested positive for the virus.

The Lobos returned to the field on Feb.23 in the Air Force, sharing two games with the Falcons, then swept away the rescheduled games against Utah State in Logan.

They then wrapped up the conference season at – of all places – the Pit, sweeping the state of Colorado for the program’s first outright regular-season title at Mountain West.

After playing the team’s first 15 games of the season away from state, senior goaltender Jaedyn De La Cerda said: “It was a blessing after everything we’ve been through. We have to party at the Pit. Dancing in the confetti, taking pictures with the trophy, cutting nets, this is what we all dream of.

From there, the Lobo women lost to Fresno State in the second round of the Mountain West tournament and lost to Cal Baptist in Fort Worth in the first round of the WNIT.

Yet in the context of COVID-19, the success of the Lobo women – an overall record of 15-5, a conference record of 11-3, the league title – personifies determination and the pursuit of excellence. as athletes, coaches, administrators from New Mexico, yes, fans too, posted through another torturous year.

Much more could be written, much more, on this subject. But I’ll leave it at that, because – I don’t know about you – I’m ready for the end of this year.

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