Peerman's Power Rankings: 10 best things in New Mexico sports this week (Feb. 25)

Feb. 25—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. Josh Jackson

Let's start PPR by acknowledging what might have been the best in-game dunk from a New Mexico high school athlete this season. The scene: Eldorado's 6-5 Josh Jackson receives the ball halfway between the mid-court line and the three-point line on a fast break with only open court ahead of him. La Cueva's 6-5 Dylan Chavez, one of the top players in the state, is right beside him, however. Jackson takes two dribbles, then two steps and elevates. Chavez keeps pace and elevates as well. Jackson gets up just a little bit higher and delivers a ferocious right-handed dunk over Chavez. Eldorado went on to win 70-58 on Friday, the last day of the regular season, to assure the Eagles a third-place finish in District 2-5A.

9. UNM baseball

Here's how the Lobos started their first homestand of the season, against South Dakota State, this past Thursday-Saturday. Game 1: Lose 11-5. Game 2: Losing 6-1 after three innings. Down 17-6 after your first 12 innings of baseball at home? Not a good look. Then, the pendulum swung the Lobos' way. UNM battled back in Game 2 and won on Reed Spenrath's RBI in the bottom of the ninth. Game 3: Will Asby's single in the bottom of the ninth brings Spenrath home and UNM records its second straight walk-off win. Game 4: The Lobos run-rule the Jackrabbits, winning 13-2 in seven innings.

8. Donovan Dent

Wednesday's win over No. 22 Colorado State was a big one for the UNM men's team; and no play was bigger than Dent's coast-to-coast layup with seconds to go to seal the victory. In fact, it was the super sophomore's third coast-to-coast game-winning layup this season! Without Dent's late-game heroics, the Lobos this week are wondering which team they'll host in the first round of the NIT if they don't secure the conference's automatic bid.

7. Zenon McCluhan and Mark Cecco

The fastest pool sprinters in the state each won a medal from the swimming and diving state championships on Saturday. Farmington's McCluhan won the 50-yard freestyle, finishing 0.02 seconds ahead of Eldorado's Mark Cecco. Cecco got his revenge in the 100, beating McCluhan by 0.13 seconds. "I love racing against him," Cecco said of his rival.

5. Lorianna Piestewa

In 2020, New Mexico debuted a new championship-level sport — girls wrestling. Piestewa, then an eighth-grader, wrestled for Miyamura and competed for the first ever girls title in the 100-pound weight class. Piestewa lost to Angelita Altamirano, a senior from what was then Oñate High School. Piestewa wouldn't lose again in a New Mexico state championship. On Saturday, she won the 114-pound state title, putting a bow on a 43-0 senior season and taking home her fourth consecutive gold medal.

4. Bryson Valdez and Niko Trujillo

In the long history of New Mexico grappling, fewer than 10 wrestlers have won five state titles. Two accomplished that rare feat on Saturday. Aztec's Valdez became a member that club with a win at 121 pounds and Cobre's Trujillo joined later in the day by claiming the 160-pound title. Niko also claimed bragging rights in the family household as his father, Sam Trujillo, won only four state championships for Cobre.

4. UNM freshman distance runners

Habtom Samuel rarely has runners sneaking up on him, but that might be the case for the title of UNM Track and Field freshman phenom. Samuel added to his claim by not only winning the 3,000-meter and 5,000-meter races at the Mountain West Track and Field Indoor Championships, but also being named the Men's Outstanding Track Performer of the Meet. So, who's this other freshman? That would be Mercy Kirarei, the women's MW champion in the 3,000-meter and 5,000-meter races. Samuel's wins were expected, Kirarei's not so much. She's only been on campus for a few weeks, having joined the team this spring. At that pace, PPR isn't counting Kirarei out of any competition.

3. Volcano Vista boys wrestling

New Mexico boys wrestling has 13 weight classes; and the Hawks have a top-three wrestler in every one of them. This outstanding depth powered Volcano Vista to its second straight team wrestling title on Saturday. Hawks wrestler Jonathon Romero, the state champion at 133 pounds, said: "I think it's harder to make our varsity lineup than it is to place at state. We have a lot of kids who could get to the podium who didn't make the team."

2. Albuquerque Academy girls swimming and diving

The Chargers are as dominant a team as there is in New Mexico sports. Consider that in 2023, the Albuquerque Academy girls set a record by scoring 290 points to win the state swimming and diving meet. This year, the Chargers scored 335 points to set a new standard for excellence. It's the team's eighth straight championship and 24th overall — both records.

1. Bella Hines

There's record-setting. And then there's ground-breaking. The latter gets you the top spot in PPR. Hines, the phenomenal junior basketball player for Eldorado, has set plenty of records, but she broke ground recently when she signed with an agent, becoming the first high school athlete in New Mexico to do so. Just about every prominent women's basketball program in the nation is recruiting Hines and to capitalize on that relative sports fame, Hines and her family are working with Dallas-based Young Money APAA Sports on marketing deals. Hines is the agency's first female high school client. Hines is blazing the trail into a new era — the NIL, or name, image, likeness era — for "amateur" athletes in New Mexico.

Honorable mention

UNM women's basketball: The Lobos needed at least a 1-1 split on a road trip to Boise State and Wyoming to remain in the upper echelon of the conference, and that's just what they got. The win in Laramie on Saturday keeps UNM tied with Boise State for second place in conference, and that's just where the team wants to be heading into the conference tournament.

UNM women's tennis: The Lobos are now 9-0 after beating UTEP this weekend. UNM is ranked No. 75, its first national ranking since getting as high as No. 31 in 2015.

Todd Fincher: The New Mexico-based horse trainer scored the biggest win of his career Saturday when Señor Buscador (16-1 odds) came from behind to pull off a huge upset in the $20 million Saudi Cup.

End of the bench

What happened to the vaunted UNM men's basketball team Saturday against lowly Air Force? The Falcons came into the Pit as 18.5-point underdogs and scrapped their way to a 78-77 win, and in the process handed the Lobos arguably their worst regular-season loss in decades. Does this eliminate UNM from an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament? PPR doesn't think so. The team still has a top-30 NET ranking, even after the loss, and has defeated three ranked teams this year. At their best, the Lobos can play with any team in the nation. But now we know the team's floor goes lower than we thought. PPR believes coaches control the team's floor (they set the foundation, per se), while players have the ability to extend ceilings. To that end, Coach Richard Pitino can take a seat next to Jaelen House (who sat for the final 17 minutes of the loss to Air Force) while he game plans the Lobos' response.

Meet the sports editor

Albuquerque Journal Sports Editor Lucas Peerman will be visiting a different coffee house the last Wednesday of every month to meet with community members. This is an opportunity to discuss in person what you'd like to see in a sports section, or to just talk sports. This month, meet Lucas at Little Bear Coffee + Roastery, 2632 Pennsylvania St. NE, from 10 to 11 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 28. Look for the little guy.