Last year may have been the last shot Hondo had at a boys basketball State championship in a while.
That team lost to Springer by just two points in the quarterfinals, and features the last players that had been on the team back when the Eagles last won a State title in 2014.
Now the team is very young and battling injuries, much like the six-man football team did this season.
But Hondo coach Ben Sanchez doesn’t like pointing to youth as a reason for his team’s struggles.
“Yeah, we’re young, but I tell my kids not to use that as an excuse,” Sanchez said. “Look at Maxwell last year. One senior, four freshmen, and they took it all.”
Actually, Maxwell has four freshmen this year, players who were in eighth grade last season when they beat Springer – the team that ousted Hondo in the quarters, remember – in the title game.
So Sanchez won’t blame problems on youth, but he can’t deny they’ll play a factor.
Also, there’s not a whole lot of numbers. Up until about two weeks ago, he was still waiting on doctor’s clearances for two of his eight eligible players.
“We won’t have much of a bench at all,” Sanchez said. “But once I get my two kids healthy, that’s my size.”
One of those two is sophomore Thomas Hernandez, who didn’t play at all last season due to a knee injury. Also, freshman Dustin Reel will take up the middle at 6-1.
One loss that will truly hurt the Eagles is junior Miguez Gonzales, who has transferred to Ruidoso.
Sanchez said his team will still press, but it will be a little different.
“This will be more of a hard-nosed press,” Sanchez said. “In-your-face kind of playing.”
Getting a State title won’t be the only thing that’s challenging. Just getting to State could prove difficult as well.
Hondo made short work of their District 3-1A competition last season, going 6-0 and winning games by an average of 42 points. Their narrowest win was a 19-point affair against Vaughn.
That Vaughn team is back and prepared to take the district crown from their Eagle rivals.
“They have two kids that started last year coming back, and they were the tougher kids,” Sanchez said of Vaughn. “We also have Quemado on the schedule, and they just got a kid that’s about 6-5. We just have to go out there and play.”