Prep football kicks off high school sports season

·6 min read

Aug. 16—Ready or not, the 2021-22 high school sports season is officially here.

Prep football games begin this week, including a pair of games in Santa Fe. At Ivan Head Stadium, Santa Fe High hosts Robertson in what many are expecting to be the start of a breakout year for the Demons.

A few miles away, Santa Fe Indian School launches the Bill Moon era by hosting Cuba. Both games kick off at 7 p.m., as do the road games that have St. Michael's visiting Taos and Capital in Grants as Joaquin "Wax" Garcia leads the Jaguars in his first game as head coach.

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Continuing on the football front, Santa Fe Indian School offensive coordinator Kevin Hauck is about to complete a unique coaching journey that began 41 years ago. When the Braves play the Rams on Friday night, Hauck will have coached a game at all four 11-man football programs in Santa Fe (New Mexico School for the Deaf has a 6-man team). The Española Valley graduate began his career at his alma mater in 1980, then moved to Santa Fe High in 1983, where he stayed for four years. His longest stay came at Capital, where he coached from 1988-99 and had his lone head-coaching stint from 1997-99.

Hauck returned to Santa Fe High in 2000 and coached until 2003. A five-year hiatus followed before he returned to Española for the 2008 and 2009 seasons, then he moved to St. Michael's in 2010 and stayed until this summer. Much of his coaching career followed the path of SFIS head coach Moon, as the duo were almost inseparable for a 20-year stretch. They coached together at Capital from 1988-96, Santa Fe High from 2000-03 and at Española from 2008-09.

To add to the Hauck history book, he has yet to be head coach of a game that didn't involve the Jaguars. He spent three years as head coach at Capital, and when St. Michael's head coach Joey Fernandez was suspended for a game for an ejection in 2018, Hauck piloted the Horsemen to a 42-6 win over Moon and the Jaguars.

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It's hard to believe he's been around only four years. It seems like so much longer, given the meat grinder he was thrown into.

Hired as the University of New Mexico's athletic director Aug. 31, 2017, Eddie Nuñez has dealt with more drama, more stress, more reinvention and more budget crunches than anyone could have anticipated when he decided to leave LSU to join Loboland.

This past week, he was rightfully decorated with the Mountain West Commissioner's Award for his service and distinguished accomplishments. UNM won six team conference championships, including the celebrated runs for the women's cross-country team, women's soccer team and women's basketball program.

And, oh yeah, there was the whole COVID-19 nomadic-life thing his football and basketball teams endured. The football team became the first in college football history to play an entire season (seven games) on the road, spending nearly two months in Nevada without a single positive COVID-19 test.

The basketball teams relocated to Texas, with the men spending more than 100 days away from home. Their "home" games were spread across four venues in three states and two time zones. The women managed to win a conference title despite spending three months on the road.

Toss all that on top of everything else Nuñez has done in his time at UNM: managing the budget crisis that led to the elimination of multiple team sports and dealing with the messy departure of former football coach Bob Davie, a man Nuñez suspended after an internal investigation and later fired after the team fell apart.

Don't forget the risky but potentially profitable move to launch a new multimedia agreement, as well as a new ticketing platform and the athletic department's leadership role in social justice reforms.

Then, of course, came the firing of the basketball coach and finding a replacement for the baseball program while overseeing several high-dollar projects to upgrade the department's facilities.

An award well-deserved? How about long overdue.

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For all the stadium hubbub the New Mexico United have made in the past month or so, it's almost easy to overlook the fact the club is on the outside looking in regarding the United Soccer League's playoff race.

The United passed the halfway point of the season Saturday night at Isotopes Park, fighting division-leading El Paso to a 1-1 draw that extended New Mexico's winless streak to four matches. The United haven't won since beating Charleston Battery 2-1 on July 12. They haven't won a road match since June 4, a 1-0 victory in Salt Lake City over Real Monarchs SLC.

At 6-6-5 and 23 points, New Mexico is alone in sixth place in the USL's Mountain Division. The top four make the postseason.

All is not lost — not even close. The United are just one point out of the final playoff spot and five points from moving into second. Help appears to be on the way in the form of a Wednesday home match against Oakland Roots, the last-place team in the Pacific Division and a club whose 10 points are second-worst in the entire league — behind the seven generated by Loudoun United FC, whose two wins include a 1-0 victory in Isotopes Park earlier this year.

Then, there's this: attendance. The turnstiles at Isotopes Park are proving that professional soccer is still a fan favorite in New Mexico. The United are averaging 8,756 fans through seven home dates — down considerably from 2019 when it led the league with an average of 12,693, but a solid second behind only Louisville City FC.

Build it and they will come? Seems like they're already here. Time to start building.

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Pojoaque Valley opened its head girls basketball position for applications Friday, bringing an end to the Seledon Martinez-led era after six years. Martinez was head coach from 2015-20, leading the Elkettes to a 98-51 record, two District 2-4A titles and a Class 4A semifinal appearance in that span before handing the program over to his son, Randy Martinez.

Pojoaque went 4-8 in the shortened 2021 spring season.

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In case you missed it (and you probably did), the conference realignment carousel last month had a slight impact on New Mexico State. On July 1, the Western Athletic Conference — once the home to UNM, Arizona, Arizona State, BYU, Utah and San Diego State to name a few — added four Texas schools.

Abilene Christian, Lamar, Sam Houston State and Stephen F. Austin are now full members of the WAC. A fifth school, Southern Utah, will join the league July 1, 2022.

Their inclusion means the WAC is back with football. The conference will complete at the FCS level, formally referred to as Division I-AA. New Mexico State was invited to be part of the fray but declined, opting instead to remain an FBS independent. The Aggies open their season Aug. 28 at home against UTEP, playing a murderer's row of Mountain West and SEC opponents between Labor Day and Thanksgiving.

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