Aztec boys, girls excited for Rumble tourneys

Karl Schneider

FARMINGTON — The Tigers and Lady Tigers basketball programs are trying to build something in Aztec.

Aztec's Makayla McCaskill attempts a 3-pointer over against Bloomfield on Jan. 4, 2015, at Bobcat Gym in Bloomfield.

The Lady Tigers have been working for the past few years to carve out their space in the state as a contender in 5A, while the boys are in the process of rebuilding the program after finishing below .500 each of the past five seasons.

Both teams showed flashes of how good they can be in November and December, earning strong wins to start the season. But both also had their share of struggles through the first two months.

Now, the Tigers and Lady Tigers will kick off 2017 with the boys hosting the Aztec Rumble and the girls hosting the Aztec Lady Tigers Rumble Thursday through Saturday at Lillywhite Gym.

The Tigers spent last week in Roswell for the Poe Corn Invitational while the Lady Tigers traveled to Las Vegas, Nev., for a holiday tournament. Both Robert McCaskill, the girls coach, and Matthew Steinfeldt, the boys coach, said they’re excited about the progress their teams showed at their respective tourneys.

“We learned a lot coming out of Vegas,” McCaskill said. “The girls got a lot of experience and saw a lot of different styles of play. I feel good about going into this stretch and the tournament. We feel really good about ourselves.”

The girls bracket is loaded with talent.

Navajo Prep (7-1), Piedra Vista (7-5), and Colorado’s Montrose (7-2) and Durango (6-4) are on the bottom half of the bracket, while Los Alamos (3-10), which has had a slow start to the season under new head coach Josh Archuleta, Crownpoint (2-5) and Utah’s Monument Valley (1-5) will be on the top half of the bracket with Aztec (7-5).

“We’re trying to improve the bracket every year, and we’re really proud of the teams we have coming in,” McCaskill said. “We should see some really good basketball being played with Montrose, PV, Navajo Prep, even Los Alamos, who has a new coach, but they’re Los Alamos, so they’ll bring some good basketball.”

The Lady Tigers will face Crownpoint in the first round at 7 p.m. Thursday.

On the boys side, the Tigers (4-7) will be tested by Crownpoint (2-5) on Thursday and Montrose, Colo., (2-7) on Friday before a showdown with Navajo Prep (8-1) Saturday afternoon.

Prep will be going after the Tigers from the opening tip, looking to redeem last year’s 62-53 loss to Aztec, which was Aztec’s only win last season.

Aztec's Kensai Lewis shoots the ball against Wingate on Dec. 13 at Lillywhite Gym in Aztec.

“Prep is off to a great start this year. They’ve gotten a number of wins and we’ve shared some common opponents we can kind of compare and contrast with them, and Saturday we’ll find out how we match up with them,” Steinfeldt said. “We feel like that’s a game we should be competitive in, and if we can put something together, and get rid of some of our mistakes, I think this can be a successful weekend for us.”

After playing 10 of 11 games on the road, the Tigers will play their next five games in front of their fans at Lillywhite Gym.

“It’s awesome,” Steinfeldt said of being back at Lillywhite Gym. “If you talk to any team, playing that many games on the road is going to be a challenge. Some of your problems seem to manifest into bigger problems when you’re on the road, and if we can get home where we’re comfortable, I think we can do some nice things over these next five games.”

Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648.