Bronco alum inherits team that advanced to state semifinals

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KIRTLAND — Devon Manning is no stranger to San Juan County, let alone Kirtland Central High School.

So, as a former Broncos basketball player and an area head coach for the last six years, it made sense for him to officially take the reins today as KC’s next girls basketball coach.

“It’s an honor to be a part of this program. I’m anxious, and I’m ready to get going. Not too often does a new coach get a team who’s going to be a veteran group," Manning said. "We’re just hoping throughout the years that we’re going to add to that tradition."

As a player, Manning helped Kirtland win three consecutive state titles from 2001-2003.

As a head coach since 2012, Manning has won a combined 78 games during stints with the Bloomfield boys and the Piedra Vista boys.

After Bloomfield missed the playoffs in back-to-back years prior to his arrival, Manning led BHS to the playoffs in three of his four years there. He then led PV to the playoffs this season, the second of his two years there. It was also the Panthers’ second year in the state's highest class, 6A.

Aside from the obvious attraction of bringing aboard a KC alum, Broncos athletic director Keith Neil said he was drawn to Manning because he produced relatively quick turnarounds at Bloomfield and PV.

“He’s had success in building a program from the bottom up. He’s not afraid to get in there and battle in area of stringent competition," Neil said. "He’s not afraid to take a team in there and battle it out. We hope he can push us over the edge and get us to state championships again."

Manning said his experiences coaching PV at the 6A level in particular helped him learn how to counter certain mismatches on the floor, from facing faster, more athletic guards to neutralizing bigger post players.

And just as he did at PV, Manning said he will stress waiting for that ideal shot to come — even if it means waiting a full minute before taking it. But he left the door open to pushing the ball up the floor, something KC players are accustomed to doing.

“If we can get our high-quality shots, then hopefully that won’t be an issue. If we can get easy shots from the fast break, we’ll take them,” Manning said. “I’ll like to get up and down when we can. But when we’re not on the fast break, (we’ll) pull it out.”

Manning said he will keep the zone/man hybrid defense he ran at PV, but will allow Kirtland to press when necessary.

Manning replaces John Zecca, who stepped down in March after three years with the Lady Broncos.

Manning inherits a program that has won 19 state titles and is fresh off a state semifinals appearance this past season. Most of KC’s core group from this season also will be back.

“They’re going to be the hunted. They’re going to have the bull's-eye on their back,” Manning said. “They’ve got to realize the final four isn’t guaranteed. I hope they realize people will be gunning for them.”

Matt Hollinshead covers sports for the Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.

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