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Championship Saturday preview: Volcano Vista boys on cusp of making history

Mar. 15—A few have tried.

Manzano gave it a shot in 1975. Then Eldorado, 31 years later. La Cueva in 2011. Atrisco Heritage was the last, four years ago. None of them ever got as far as the Volcano Vista Hawks.

Sure, finding an Albuquerque boys basketball program that has won three consecutive state basketball championships is not difficult. You need look no further than private schools Albuquerque Academy and Hope Christian.

However, in the current multiple classification system, which dates to 1954, not a single school from Albuquerque has ever won three straight boys titles in the largest classification.

Volcano Vista on Saturday night can carve out some history for itself and become the first.

"We're trying to get one," Hawks coach Greg Brown said. "This one."

The top-seeded Hawks play No. 2 seed Organ Mountain at 8 p.m. in the Class 5A final at the Pit.

Both are 29-1.

"None of us (on our team) have ever been there, so we just have to stay strong mentally," Organ Mountain senior forward Brandon Kehres said.

The teams met at the beginning of the season, with the Hawks winning by 20 in Las Cruces.

Organ Mountain has won 28 in a row since. The Knights also suffered a tough loss to Volcano Vista in last year's state semifinals, a result that has lingered.

"All summer, all offseason, we talked about that loss," Organ Mountain coach Rocky Gonzales said.

The Hawks vowed that they will not get caught up thinking about anything other than Organ Mountain on Saturday night.

"We'll treat it like another day, another game," said the Hawks' best player, 6-foot-7 junior forward Kenyon Aguino.

Organ Mountain reached the final for the first time in 13 years. The last time the school was here, it was known as Oñate.

Theirs is the last of seven finals at the Pit on Saturday.

Included in the other six are two all-Albuquerque championship matchups.

The 5A girls final pits No. 2 Sandia (27-3) against No. 4 Volcano Vista (24-5) at 2 p.m. This is their third meeting of the season. The Matadors won big very early in the season, the Hawks beat Sandia at the Albuquerque metro semifinals.

"They're another great team," Hawks coach Lisa Villareal said. "I thought any one of us (top four seeds Sandia, Volcano Vista, Hobbs, Farmington) could win it. We have an opportunity to do that on Saturday, and we're looking forward to another great challenge."

This is five state championship games in a row for Volcano Vista, which eliminated defending state champion Hobbs in the semifinals on Thursday. Sandia was last here in 2017.

Two of the state's premier players will be featured, with junior guard Sydney Benally of Sandia, and Volcano Vista's imposing senior forward, Taejhuan "TT" Hill.

"We just gotta come out and play strong and tough," Hill said. "We're playing for the 'ship. This is it. One more."

Sandia doesn't start any seniors. The nucleus of this group has been together for three seasons.

"I've become a strong believer that we're exactly where we're supposed to be," said Sandia coach Lee Kettig, asked if his Matadors were perhaps a year ahead of schedule.

Said Benally: "The only thing (other teams) had on us was experience. We've gained chemistry these last two years, and that's why we're here."

The Class 4A boys final, at 4 p.m., features No. 1 Highland (25-6) versus No. 2 Valley (24-6). How closely matched are these two? Highland's extra win is basically the reason the Hornets were the 1 seed instead of the Vikings.

"This is our third championship game in five years. When I took over this job seven years ago, people said that's probably impossible," Hornets coach Justin Woody said. "But these guys have believed in me. I'm so proud of them."

Highland beat Valley 70-57 in December. For the defensive-minded Vikings, there was only one other team on their schedule that scored more points on them than Highland did, and that was 5A power La Cueva.

These two met in the 2020 4A final, with no fans. It was the middle of that tournament week when fans were banned from the Pit due to the COVID pandemic.

Valley has been the most dominant team in the 4A playoffs, winning by 41, 40 and 17 points. Highland's three postseason games have all been in serious doubt going to the fourth quarter.

"I'm super proud of these guys. It's a great group of kids to coach. I love them," Vikings coach EZ Panas said. This is his first championship game as Valley's head coach. "They're just an awesome team. They love each other. But the job's not done yet."

Saturday's slate begins with a rematch of last year's Class 2A boys final between champion Pecos (21-10), the No. 7 seed, and top-seeded Academy for Technology and the Classics from Santa Fe. Although the two schools are separated by only about 25 miles, this is their first meeting.

The Panthers are looking for their third straight upset. They ousted No. 3 Eunice and No. 2 Tularosa already this week.

ATC-Pecos is followed at 10 a.m. with district rivals Fort Sumner/House (22-7 and seeded fourth) and No. 3 Logan (23-7) in the Class 1A girls title game.

This is their sixth meeting of the season; Logan won three of the first five, including the last two.

The Class 3A boys final at noon has a 1-2 pairing with Robertson (27-2) and Navajo Prep (25-4). The Cardinals lost to St. Michael's in last year's 3A final. The Eagles punched their ticket Friday afternoon, in a tense 59-56 semifinal win over Santa Fe Indian.

In Saturday's penultimate game, it is the 1A boys at 6 p.m. And as with 2A, this is a rematch of the 2023 final, with No. 1 Magdalena (30-1) facing No. 2 Fort Sumner/House (23-5). The Steers beat the co-op 78-58 the first week of 2024. Fort Sumner/House won 45-43 in the 1A final 12 months ago.