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Both the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys and girls basketball teams will be facing stiff competition this week when they travel to one of the premier tournaments in the state.
The teams will take part in the Joe Armijo Invitational, which starts Thursday and continues through Saturday at Albuquerque Academy.
The Armijo Invitational over the last several seasons has drawn some of the top teams from across the state. This season, a couple of solid out-of-state teams will also take part, including Denver Mullen, a private school in Colorado with a reputation as one of the top programs in the Denver metro area.
In the first round of the Armijo Invite boys bracket, Mullen will take on one of the premier programs in New Mexico and the arch-rival of the Hilltoppers, the Española Valley Sundevils.
Meanwhile, in Thursday’s first round, the Hilltopper boys will take on the Class 5A Highland Hornets. The Hilltopper girls will square off against Volcano Vista, a former Class 4A foe which made the jump into the 5A ranks this season.
Volcano Vista’s Hawks (4-1) are an emerging program and already off to a solid start this season with wins over Del Norte and Valley. The Hawks play under the tutelage of head coach Lisa Villareal, one of the most underrated coaches in the state, who had considerable success at Española Valley during her stay there, success at a level the Sundevils hadn’t been able to approach until they brought in legendary coach Ron Drake three years ago.
While the Hawks are young – their roster includes three freshmen and two sophomores – they have some height with 6-footer Schylar Malone and have one of the most bruising guards in the state in Emma Fenske.
Hilltopper head coach Tarah Logan said Fenske and her younger sister, Hannah, are two very good players the Hilltoppers will have to keep an eye on.
“They have excellent driving ability and they have excellent perimeter range,” Logan said.
Los Alamos will head into the tournament on the heels of its first win of the season, a 42-31 victory over the Moriarty Pintos.
Much like its first round opponents, Los Alamos (1-2) is young and largely inexperienced at the varsity level. The team’s younger players, most notably freshman McKenzine Logan and sophomore Erin Kirk, have performed well through the early part of the season, however. Logan has been among the team’s leaders in scoring so far, converting from inside and outside at her off-guard position.
The victory, after losing to Pojoaque to open the season in a game that Los Alamos led much of the way, followed by a loss on the road at St. Michael’s, was a shot in the arm for coach Logan’s young squad.
“I think it’s good to get that first W,” she said. “Before you get that first one, you wonder if you can do it until you finish. We’re not going to have any superstars. They have to play as a team…and they support each other 100 percent.”
Besides Los Alamos, the only other Class 4A team in the girls draw is Academy. The Chargers, whom Los Alamos would not see until the final round, is 2-1 on the season, topping Capital and Artesia but falling to Valley in its opener.
Hope Christian (5-1), a Class 3A school, may be the team to beat on the girls side, having soundly beaten the likes of Bernalillo, West Mesa and Albuquerque High so far this season.
In the boys tournament, Hope (5-0) could also be among the favorites, although with a tournament as loaded as this one, choosing a clear-cut front-runner is challenging.
The Huskies have romped four of their five opponents, the nipped a very good 5A team in Eldorado for their victories this season.
La Cueva, Hope’s first round opponent, could be another team to watch in the tournament, as could the Sundevils.
Los Alamos (1-4) will likewise head into the tournament off its first win of the season, a victory against Belen Tuesday to start an 11-game road trip. Los Alamos picked up a 35-29 victory at Belen.
While the Hilltoppers’ defense has been very good over the last three games — it has allowed less than 50 points against Moriarty and St. Michael’s — their point production hasn’t been able to match it.
Tuesday’s win was the first in the career of Hilltopper boys coach Matt King, who said he wasn’t concerned about the low offensive output because his team was able to create good scoring chances.
“With a young team, you’re going to have shooting nights like that,” he said. “When you only turn the ball over eight times and you hold a team to 29 points, you can overcome bad shooting nights.”
Highland (3-2) has been on a roll since losing its first two contests of the season. King said he thinks the Hornets could be a legitimate contender in Class 5A this year with its ability to put the ball on the floor and get penetration on offense.
Here are the brackets for the Joe Armijo Invitational:
Boys (all games in Academy East Gymnasium)
Española Valley vs. Denver Mullen, 1p.m.
Hope Christian vs. La Cueva, 2:45 p.m.
Los Alamos vs. Highland, 5:15 p.m.
Albuquerque Academy vs. Rio Rancho, 7 p.m.
Española Valley-Mullen loser vs. Hope-La Cueva loser, 1 p.m.
Academy-Rio Rancho loser vs. Los Alamos-Highland loser, 2:45 p.m.
Española Valley-Mullen winner vs. Hope-La Cueva winner, 5:15 p.m.
Academy-Rio Rancho winner vs. Los Alamos-Highland winner, 7 p.m.
Seventh-place game, 11:15 a.m.
Fifth-place game, 1 p.m.
Third-place game, 2:45 p.m.
Championship game, 7 p.m.
Girls (all games in Academy West Gymnasium except championship)
Albuquerque vs. Hope, 1 p.m.
Los Alamos vs. Volcano Vista, 2:45 p.m.
Albuquerque Academy vs. Oñate, 5:15 p.m.
Del Valle, Texas, vs. West Mesa, 7 p.m.
Los Alamos-Volcano Vista loser vs. Albuquerque-Hope loser, 1 p.m.
Academy-Oñate loser vs. Del Valle-West Mesa loser, 2:45 p.m.
Los Alamos-Volcano Vista winner vs. Albuquerque-Hope winner, 5:15 pm.
Academy-Oñate winner vs. Del Valle-West Mesa winner, 7 p.m.
Seventh-place game, 1 p.m.
Fifth-place game, 2:45 p.m.
Third-place game, 5:15 p.m.
Championship game, 5:15 p.m.