After their season ended in the first round of the Class 1A boys high school basketball state tournament, Mountainair’s head coach Azan Chavez made sure his players knew what they’d achieved.
“I told them I was proud of them, it was a good accomplishment to get there,” Chavez said. “And we’re only going to get better.”
Despite losing 61-40 in the March 7 opening round at No. 6 Fort Sumner, the Mustangs—without any seniors on the team—finished with their first winning season in a decade. Mountainair posted the most victories and earned their first trip to the state tournament since 2010.
And though they lost to Fort Sumner by 21 points, Chavez said the No. 11 Mustangs gave it everything they had.
“The game was pretty tight, we were up by one going into the fourth quarter,” Chavez said. “Then Cade Brazil fouled out and the momentum changed—it was a little heartbreaking.”
Chavez said the Mustangs’ season started with another heartbreaker: a 58-52 loss to Evangel Christian, setting the stage for the team’s long journey to the playoffs.
Mountainair lost four of its first five games before winning four consecutive contests, including a victory over the Hondo Valley Eagles—the team the Mustangs would face four more times.
In early January, the Mustangs got throttled by two Class 2A teams, including losing by more than 60 points to 2A’s No. 2 team, Magdalena.
Mountainair then lost two games out of three at Reserve High School’s Mountaineer Invitational tournament and returned home to lose the first district game of the season to Hondo Valley.
On Jan. 23, the Mustangs found themselves floundering with a 6-9 record.
“At that point, I was kinda skeptical how the season would end,” Chavez said. “It was pretty iffy.”
Then the Mustangs went on a tear, winning nine of their next 10 regular-season games.
“It was all them, they basically took it into their own hands,” Chavez said, crediting his players. “The guys were driven, they seemed relaxed, and it relaxed me.”
Having split their two district matchups with Hondo Valley, the Mustangs faced off with the Eagles again on Feb. 22 in a neutral site tie-breaker game in Vaughn to determine which team would get the No. 1 seed in the District 3-1A tournament.
With a good-sized Mountainair crowd that traveled to Vaughn to support them, the Mustangs won 64-56.
“To me that was the biggest game of the season yet,” Chavez said. “It was amazing to see the fan base follow us—for the guys to see that too, it was awesome.”
After Hondo beat Corona and Vaughn in the first two rounds of the district tournament, Mountainair hosted the Eagles in the district championship.
The Mustangs came out on top 65-61.
“The guys rose to the occasion,” Chavez said. “To be able to come out and beat a team four out of five is super uncommon.”
Chavez said he thought the Mustangs were going to get the 14th seed in the state playoffs and might’ve had to face No. 3 Tatum—the team that eliminated Fort Sumner in the March 11 quarterfinals—so he was happy to get the 11th seed.
And though the Mustangs’ hopes were dashed in the first round of state, Chavez is pleased that the Mustangs posted a 17-11 overall record and went 9-1 in district, their best season yet with him at the helm.
“I truly believe I couldn’t have asked for anything better, the way we progressed and peaked at the end,” Chavez said “We came up a little short but I told the guys this is the first of many.”
Ger has been writing and shooting photos of high school sports for The Independent for 15 years. His dedication to youth athletics goes beyond sports reporting. He is past president of East Mountain Little League and works as a baseball umpire. He lives in Edgewood with his family.