Peerman's Power Rankings: 10 best things in New Mexico sports this week (Jan. 21)

Jan. 21—Welcome to Peerman's Power Rankings (PPR), the 10 athletes, teams and story lines that have Journal sports editor Lucas Peerman's attention. Look for a new power rankings list every Sunday.

Have a suggestion, complaint or compliment? Email or contact me on X @LucasPeerman.

10. Joe Vivian Classic

This weekend's wrestling tournament at Cibola High School was sort of an appetizer to next month's main course, the wrestling state championships. And no match at the Vivian ended up being as tasty as the 139-pound final between Volcano Vista's Xzavier Salazar and Española Valley's Cruz Sandoval. Neither grappler managed a point until five seconds were left in the six-minute bout. That's when Salazar escaped from Sandoval's clutches, scoring a point and ultimately hoisting the trophy (the win also helped the Hawks capture the Vivian team title). The ending proved sweet for Salazar and sour for Sandoval, who should be hungry for revenge.

9. Hope Christian boys basketball

Twice this season, the Huskies have amassed 17-point leads over their opponents, only to see the entirety of that margin disappear — before ultimately escaping with a win. The latest nearly-blew-it moment came in the Hope Christian Invitational championship game against St. Pius. Some clutch free throws and threes helped Hope Christian, 10-6 and ranked No. 4 in Class 4A, hang on and win its home tournament 59-54. The Huskies are clearly talented. And if they play like the score's tied no matter what the scoreboard says, they may even be a title contender.

8. Demarcus Thompson named this Lovington defensive end and wide receiver the 2023 New Mexico Mr. Football. No complaints from PPR. Thompson, a senior who helped lead the Wildcats to the 4A title, was unquestionably the top DE (71 tackles, 37.5 tackles-for-loss and 18.5 sacks) and arguably the best WR (1,179 yards and 18 touchdowns) in the state. With a slight 6-foot, 180-pound frame, Thompson has the option to be a preferred walk-on at UNM and holds several offers from Division II programs, according to online recruiting services. Wherever Thompson goes, whatever position he plays, PPR is betting he finds a role to help his team win.

7. Chloe

Dozens of dachshunds enter, only one is crowned a champion. We're talking about the annual Wiener Dog Races, held during halftime of a New Mexico State men's basketball game. This year, Chloe was the top dog — again — and it wasn't even close. The multiple-time winning wiener won by several lengths at Thursday's exhibition. Hot dog!

6. Habtom Samuel

The Albuquerque Convention Center is no stranger to hosting indoor track and field events, and on Saturday it was the site of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Invitational. Samuel, UNM's fabulous freshman runner, clocked a sub-four-minute mile (3:59.12 to be exact), setting not only a school record but also recording the fastest collegiate mile ever run at the convention center. Samuel's already a star, and he's quickly (does it he do it any other way?) rising to track superstardom.

5. Clark Sonnenberg

Speaking of young sports prodigies, this Albuquerque Academy senior etched his name on golf's rising stars list with a win on the American Junior Golf Association tour. Sonnenberg, who is committed to UNM's golf program, set tournament records in winning the 54-hole Butterfield Bermuda Junior Championship on Jan. 12-14. His final round 66 and 8-under 205 were both unprecedented. With the victory, Sonnenberg jumped to No. 202 on the AJGA rankings of best young golfers in the world (previously, he was just outside the top 1,000).

4. Valencia boys basketball

On Jan. 10, the Jaguars dropped a hard-fought 66-58 game at Valley, but it isn't for their play on the court that this team gets a spot in PPR. After the game, the team decided to grab a bite to eat at a Whataburger in Albuquerque. A patron later wrote Valencia High about what they witnessed at the restaurant that day and the Los Lunas school district published that letter on its social media. In part, the witness writes: "An elderly woman using a walker had been in the restaurant for a while and she seemed a bit out of it, but she left on her own and said she was fine. A minute later a few of the basketball players and a coach literally ran at full speed across the lobby to get out the door—I looked, and the old lady had fallen down into the parking lot. The players and coach helped her up, they even put her glasses back on for her, and the coach walked her to the bus stop. I just wanted to share that with you so you know what a great impression your team made on everyone there that day." This is a win in our book. Way to go, Jaguars!

3. Slurpee and Cheetos

Milk Duds made an appearance in last week's PPR. This week, the junk food du jour is a Slurpee and a bag of Cheetos from Circle K. In a postgame interview, that's what New Mexico State basketball coach Jason Hooten said is his go-to snack to celebrate a big win. And boy did his team ever have a big win Thursday, a 72-70 come-from-behind victory over Western Kentucky in the Pan American Center. "Probably one of the greatest victories in my career in 31 years," Hooten said, referencing the record comeback from 23 down in the second half. The Aggies followed with a 73-62 home win over Middle Tennessee on Saturday to improve to 3-1 in Conference USA, is tied for the best league record. Keep (sugar) crushin' it, Aggies.

2. Jaelen House

After the UNM men's basketball team beat No. 16 Utah State 99-86 at home Tuesday and downed Air Force 85-66 on the road Saturday, any number of Lobos could have been in this spot. Nelly Junior Joseph had his best game as a Lobo, recording 26 points (on 11-of-12 shooting), eight rebounds, five blocked shots and three steals against the Aggies; or maybe Donovan Dent was deserving with his 15 points, 14 assists, three steals and one turnover in that game. Don't forget about JT Toppin, the freshman who recorded his sixth double-double of the season with 25 points and 13 rebounds in the win over the Falcons. PPR is instead going with the senior guard who put up a combined 21 points, three rebounds, four assists and nine fouls over those two games. House's stats don't always tell the full story. Here's the abbreviated version: The Lobos are at their best when House is the court conductor. And right now, he's got this soon-to-be-ranked team humming.

1. UNM women's basketball

What were the odds? A $100 bet on the UNM women's basketball team to beat No. 25 UNLV in Las Vegas on Saturday would have netted the bettor a $1,500 return. In fact, the Rebels weren't only predicted to win, the oddsmakers had them winning by at least 21 points. Consider the Rebels had won 22 straight at home and 29 straight against Mountain West foes. The middling Lobos didn't have a chance, did they? Well, as they say, that's why they play the game. After 40 minutes, the scoreboard read, UNM 69, UNLV 66 — a monumental upset. This might be coach Mike Bradbury's biggest win in his eight years at the helm, and no doubt Viané Cumber's three in the final seconds is the most clutch long-distance shot from a Lobo (men's or women's) this season. Add in Wednesday's 68-61 home win over Wyoming (a team that hadn't lost a conference matchup this season heading into that game), and the UNM women's team is clearly having the best week in New Mexico sports.

Honorable mention

Aliyah Logan and Rebecca Green: Two members of the New Mexico State track and field team set school records this weekend at the MLK Invitational in Albuquerque. Aliyah Logan broke her own school record in the 60-meter hurdles, posting a time of 8.24 seconds; and Rebecca Green posted a personal best of 15.76 meters in the shot put to break a record that had stood since 2006.

UNM fans: Tip of the hat to Lobo die-hards who traveled to Colorado Springs to root on their men's basketball team against Air Force on Saturday. Coach Richard Pitino and players both mentioned how it almost felt like a home game. Next challenge: Sell out the Pit for next Sunday's big game against Nevada.

Don Haskins: OK, this isn't technically in the Land of Enchantment but it's worth mentioning in any column recognizing borderland excellence. UTEP will be honoring the legendary Hall of Fame basketball coach with a statue outside of the stadium that bears his name. The unveiling of the 7-foot statue will be Feb. 24.

End of the bench

The publishers of Sports Illustrated missed a payment to the company that owns the storied magazine's license last week, vaulting the company into chaos. It seems there will be many (total staff?) layoffs, though the ventures have promised this isn't the end of the SI brand. It's too early to say with any confidence what happens next. Readers of the PPR column in print almost assuredly were SI subscribers at some point. For nearly 15 years (first to SI for Kids and later to the weekly magazine) I, too, devoured every word from Frank DeFord, Rick Reilly, Gary Smith and other extraordinary writers who inspired me to pursue journalism. Hearing the SI news on Friday was a punch in the gut to 20-year-old me. But with the advent of social media and smartphones, SI hasn't been relevant in my life for at least a decade. I'm not proud of that fact and that's why I'm relegating myself to the end of the bench this week. If you made it to the end of this column, thank you. Your continued support is paramount to keeping local sports journalism thriving in our community and saving us from what has happened to so many of our beloved print sports media outlets.

Previous PPRs

Jan. 14Jan. 7Notable sports stories in 2023