Days get short, and so does practice schedule
Seledon Martinez is echoing the voices of many basketball coaches as they see their season officially begin Monday.
“I’m not happy,” said Martinez, the Pojoaque Valley head girls basketball coach. “But what can we do? We take what they gave us and make it work.”
What the New Mexico Activities Association gave basketball coaches were two fewer weeks of practice in preparation for the 2018-19 season. When the NMAA opted to go back to five classes in June 2017, it also decided to push back the start of winter practice by two weeks to alleviate the issue of overlapping sports affecting the winter season (basketball, wrestling, swimming and diving).
However, the winter schedules didn’t account for that. Teams will get this week to hold tryouts, enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday, then start practices for the upcoming season. Many of them will start playing games during the week of Nov. 26-Dec. 1. The Elkettes will hold three days of tryouts, determine their roster, then get three practices before playing host to Capital for the season opener on Nov. 27.
Martinez sees plenty of problems with that timeline.
“The girls who showed up over the summer know what we’re going to do,” Martinez said. “The ones who don’t are going to learn on the fly. There is no preparation. We’re going to have to ad-lib everything that we do. There is no conditioning or anything. I think we’re going to see sloppy basketball for the first month.”
In the past, winter sports had most of November — in the past couple of years, the last day of October — to start practice and get some of the perfunctory items, such as tryouts, out of the way. The problem was that fall-sport athletes were not a part of the process until the fall season ended. It created a trickle effect of some players switching from one sport to another during the first two to three weeks of the season as their respective fall sports ended. The NMAA attempted to rectify that situation, but some coaches feel that created new problems for the winter season — many of them time-management related.
“I’ve talked to many basketball coaches, and we all understand it and are quite frustrated,” Santa Fe High head boys basketball coach Zack Cole said. “We understand we still have a job to do and have to get teams ready. That’s the focus of every coach.”
Cole and Martinez are at an advantage because they have the bulk of their squads returning from last season, so the learning curve is not as steep. But for coaches who are seeing a lot of player turnover or taking over new programs, the situation is harder.
Anthony Moya, the first-year head boys basketball coach at Academy for Technology and the Classics, faces the same problem that Martinez does because the program will also have a three-day tryout. On top of that, Moya is still trying to figure out who is going to show up for tryouts and who won’t. He, too, will have a three-day tryout period, then will hold a Friday practice before going to Albuquerque Bosque School for a scrimmage.
The following week brings a Nov. 27 game at Foothill in Albuquerque and three games as a part of Santa Fe Indian School’s junior varsity for that weekend.
All the while, Moya has to settle on a junior varsity team and try to get those players to buy in to his program.
“For schools like us, you’re just trying to get your solid 10 [players] for varsity,” Moya said. “The rest, you can put them in and out of varsity and work with what you got. I think we won’t settle into regular [teams] until after Christmas.”
And there was the recalibration of schedules to adjust to the new practice schedule. Cole said he worked with Santa Fe Public Schools athletic director Larry Chavez to adjust the Demons’ schedule to give the team some more practice time before starting the season at Capital’s Al Armendariz Classic on Nov. 29. Prior to that, Santa Fe High was going to play a game during the first week of the winter season and two before playing in back-to-back in-season tournaments.
The program moved a game with Albuquerque Academy to Jan. 5, and got out of a game with an APS school to play at Clovis on Jan. 12.
“It took our AD moving games to different parts of the season just to give us 10 days we would have before the season begin.”
Of course, programs have to make concessions. Cole said he will have practice on Thanksgiving — something he hasn’t done during the first two years at the school. That, created its own problems.
“The players who have been with you, they normally make plans for that day,” Cole said. “We’ve got parents sending emails asking if they can miss practice because they made prior arrangements.”