New challenges, opportunities await in district

Karl Schneider

FARMINGTON — This week marks a change for high school boys and girls basketball teams as the games suddenly become more important with the beginning of district play.

Kirtland Central's Tiajhae Nez drives past Bloomfield's Kara Watchman on Feb. 24 at Bronco Arena in Kirtland.

Not that nondistict games don’t matter. They do. A win over a top team in the state, regardless of class, can play a big role in seeding for the state tournaments. But while strong nondistrict wins look good to the state selection committee, only a district title, in either the regular season or tournament, promises a spot in the state tourney field.

Coaches and players often refer to the district schedule as a new season. It’s a chance to put the struggles they faced in the first two months of the season behind them. A team that enters the district schedule with a losing record can get hot in the final month and steal a high seed in the tourney.

“It’s a whole new season from here on out,” KC girls coach John Zecca said after the Lady Broncos' District 1-5A opening win over Aztec Tuesday night. “We had a few bad games in the first half, but now we have the opportunity to come out and redeem ourselves in the games that matter the most. Not that the games early on don’t count, but district is what really counts.”

Farmington's Jacob Brown rises for a dunk against Kirtland Central on Dec. 8 at Scorpion Gym in Farmington.

While teams in similar situations as the Lady Broncos, who went 5-7 in nondistrict games, see the district schedule as a chance to sneak up on some teams that may have written them off after a shaky start, teams that started the season on a tear find themselves playing every game with a target on their back.

The Farmington boys are in that situation this year.

The Scorps are 14-2 — the best record in 5A — heading into their District 1-5A opener Thursday night against Gallup at Scorpion Gym. Following the good start to the season, and after winning the District 1-5A title last season, the Scorps are set to receive the best every team has to offer over the next month.

“We understand we have a little target on our back, and we’re going to be everybody’s big game,” Farmington coach Paul Corley said. “We have to come ready to play basketball every game, on both ends of the court. I have a good group of seniors, and I think they’re ready for the challenge.”

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