Freedom New Mexico
A senior-laden Portales Rams squad put together an 18-10 record and advanced to the Class 3A state quarterfinals last March.
This year, veteran coach Mark Gallegos is working with a mostly-new roster, and the Rams will be severely tested right out of the box.
Portales opens at the Ram Activity Center on Friday against Clovis, which opens the season as the top-ranked team in Class 5A. Its next game is on Tuesday at Roswell High, ranked sixth in Class 4A.
“The biggest thing for us this year is we’re so young,” said Gallegos, entering his 14th season. “We don’t have a group set as far as a starting group.
“It’s always been tough (facing those teams), but we’ve always gotten better from it. We’re just going to go in there and compete.”
Only three players return with any varsity experience, including senior guard Phoenix Russell, an All-District 4-3A selection. Ten were lost to graduation.
“We’re still learning to play,” Gallegos said. “I feel like we can win the district, but it’s going to take us a while (to settle in).”
Portales won the district regular-season championship last year, but lost to Lovington in the district tourney final. The Wildcats were also hard-hit by graduation, Gallegos noted, losing nine seniors.
Other Rams with varsity experience are senior point guard David Rodriguez and senior guard-forward Enrique Urioste. The fourth senior, Ben Blue, is moving up from the junior varsity.
Gallegos said the Rams have a strong junior class, led by Emilio Baca in the post position and Reyes Calbert, a guard-forward who was on the JV in 2010-11.
“We’re going to try to play 10 kids,” said Gallegos, who won the 3A state title in 2001 and finished second in 2005. “These first two games will be about learning whose going to compete.
“Everybody has a chance (to contribute).”
Gallegos said the Rams appear to have a strong freshman class coming up, although he doesn’t anticipate any of those players moving up to the varsity this season.
“We’ve got a bunch of kids who are going to play five quarters a night (between varsity and JV),” Gallegos said. “We’re going to develop (toward) our future.”
Ruidoso easily has the most experience coming back in the three-team district, and Gallegos said the Warriors probably have the top player in senior guard Terrance Shields.