Pojoaque Valley High School girls basketball coach Seledon Martinez and his players’ journey to Feb. 22’s district championship-sealing victory over Los Alamos High School has been anything but a straight path.
Instead, it’s has been an ascending climb each season and finally in Martinez’s fourth year on the job, the Elkettes (22-4, 7-1) helped deliver that first district championship together with their head coach with a 48-35 victory over the Lady Hilltoppers (12-14, 6-2) at Griffith Gymnasium.
The Elkettes went from basement dwellers in the district in Martinez’s first year in 2015-16 when they finished 0-6, then spent two seasons on the up and up, but ultimately falling short to former district foes Las Vegas Robertson, West Las Vegas and St. Michael’s High School in the district races.
With the New Mexico Activities Association’s new classification and alignment for 2018-2020, Pojoaque was abandoned by their formal rivals — who all dropped to Class 3A — while the Elkettes were forced to remain stagnant in 4A, where they answered the challenge.
Overall, Martinez’s teams have gone from two 12-win seasons, a 23-6 overall record and semifinal berth in the state tournament last season and now a district championship.
“For the program, this is huge,” Martinez said. “I’ve gone through hell and back and some people wanted me gone, but every year it has gotten better. If they don’t like me, that’s fine, but don’t take it out on the kids.”
Some of them, like seniors Taylor Roybal, Camille Cordova and Adrianna Quintana have had a first-hand experience in the program turnaround as they have all been varsity players since their freshmen seasons.
“For us, especially being seniors, we just wanted this,” Quintana said. “The relationship we have with each other was, 'We wanted this so bad, that nothing is going to stand in our way.' Coming into this, we just had a big heart, knew we had to outwork them and that outworking mentality pays off in the end.”
Los Alamos handed Pojoaque their lone district defeat in a come-from-behind effort (17-0 run to end the game) Feb. 5 at Ben Luján Gymnasium for a 55-48 win, but the Elkettes made sure from the onset that history was not going to repeat itself in the encore.
Their intensity and focus to begin the game proved too much for the Lady Hilltoppers, as Pojoaque opened up a 15-6 lead after the first quarter before beginning the second on a 9-0 run that started with an Ashten Martinez mid range jumper and extended after Roybal was able to find freshman Tonni Aquino wide open underneath to put home a layup that increased the Elkettes lead to 23-6.
Pojoaque added two free throws before Los Alamos made a pair on the other end, but Quintana was sure to keep the momentum on the Elkettes’ side by hitting the glass on the next possession to snag an offensive rebound and convert a put back while being fouled on the play. She made the free throw and Pojoaque kept up the pressure to reach the locker room with a 33-15 halftime lead.
“The girls knew we shouldn’t have lost the game last time to them,” coach Martinez said. “They wanted to make amends and they had been working hard and it showed how we started the game.”
Most often, it’s not how you start, but how you finish, and Los Alamos would make a slight push in the third quarter to keep the Pojoaque faithful wary of another comeback and collapse, but this time the Elkettes stayed poised. The Lady Hilltoppers managed to climb back within 12 points, 39-27, after the third quarter, but Pojoaque pushed the lead to as large as 17 points in the fourth before the final horn sounded with the 13-point differential on the scoreboard.
“Our energy (is what allowed us to not let another comeback happen),” Quintana said. “Our bench did an amazing job and it was phenomenal to see us all celebrating when we won. We have each other’s back and we know that energy pays off in the end to be a district champ or to be a state champ: this could be just one blue (trophy) we get this season and we’re still heading to another plateau.”
Quintana led Pojoaque with a team-high 12 points — and like the bully and enforcer that coach Martinez has described her as in the past — also wreaked havoc on the defensive end by coming up with five steals to lead the team. Michaela Martinez added 11 points, including six of Pojoaque’s nine in the fourth quarter and Cordova had eight points — all coming in the first half with two 3s.
Becca Green did her best down low for Los Alamos by scoring a game-high 19 points, but Natalie Gallegos and Hannah Sanchez were the next closest in the scoring column with just four points apiece.
The Lady Hilltoppers were ice cold from beyond the arc and made zero 3-pointers, a much different case than the first matchup between the teams when they sunk a total of eight.
With the district championship trophy at its side, Pojoaque will have the luxury of waiting until Saturday before taking the court again in what will be their right to host the district tournament championship game at 7 p.m. at Ben Luján Gymnasium.