A young Clovis Wildcats squad headed to Albuquerque in 2010 hoping to be a bracket-buster, only to be stopped by a senior-laden Valley squad.
How a year changes things.
Wednesday’s 9:45 a.m. quarterfinal at The Pit matches those same teams in what could be considered a role reversal of last season. In 2010, Clovis fell 89-67 thanks largely to a 36-point night from Viking senior Michael Maya.
The Vikings suffered heavy graduation losses, and are the only remaining 5A squad with a losing record at 12-14. But Valley got the No. 7 seed because it finished strong after a 3-11 start.
“It’s been a really interesting year,” Valley coach Joe Coleman said. “We only have two kids coming back from that team. We’ve got four freshmen this year and we just started over.”
Clovis, meanwhile, got a year better, going 25-2 and earning Class 5A’s No. 2 seed. Senior Lathan Lieb, who missed last year’s tournament with a torn ACL, is healthy and leads the Wildcats at 24 points per game. Sophomores D.J. Blackmon, Clovis’ second-leading scorer at 14.0 points per game, and John Dawson, who leads the Wildcats with 6.3 assists a game, are a year older.
“They’re big, they’re physical, they’re very athletic, they’re strong, they’ve got a great player in Lieb and he’s got great players around him,” Coleman said. “They’re head and shoulders above us, but we’ll give it a shot and see what happens.”
Senior Tucker Martin was one of the Wildcats around for last year’s quarterfinal loss. As he and his teammates got set to leave the Clovis High campus Tuesday afternoon, he said the Wildcats would need to defend to avoid a repeat.
“We didn’t come out ready to play last year,” Martin said, “and it showed because we were coming back home the next day.”
Clovis coach J.D. Isler thinks his team is one built for the state tournament, where calm and experience tend to prevail.
“This group never does really get too high or too low,” Isler said. “They stay on an even keel. I don’t think that will change up there at all.
“This group’s definitely not satisfied with being up there. They’re going up there to play more than one game.”
Recent history favors the Wildcats, winners of 10 straight. The teams met in December, with the Wildcats claiming a 69-54 win, and it was the start of an eight-game skid for the Vikings.
“Watching film on them, they’re pretty much the same team,” Isler said. “They feed off of (senior guard Mario Flores). Their post players post up really hard. They’re not extremely big, but they post up pretty hard.”
Coleman said in the same way Maya led the Vikings, Flores has taken that role.
“He’s just put us on his back,” Coleman said, “and we’re along for the ride.”
The winner faces Manzano or Las Cruces in a 4:45 p.m. Thursday quarterfinal.