ALBUQUERQUE — The Kirtland Central girls basketball team did everything possible to withstand the madness, and it still managed to play in back-to-back Class 4A state basketball finals.
“It’s awesome. This is a dream come true… It’s awesome just to be here again,” shooting guard Tatelyn Manheimer said. “It’s an honor just to play in back-to-back (state finals). Not that many teams can do that over the years, and I just think it’s a privilege to play for Kirtland Central basketball.”
First came the news fans would be barred for the rest of the state basketball championships, including the Lady Broncos' second straight 4A finals appearance on Friday, amid the coronavirus reaching New Mexico.
Then came an empty Dreamstyle Arena in Thursday's 4A state semifinals versus Portales.
“It was crazy. I thought they would at least play music in the warmup, but there was nothing," coach Devon Manning said.
Even so, Kirtland tried to implement some form of normalcy leading up to Friday.
"For both teams, they had to create their own music in their head, they had to create their own hype, they had to create their own energy,” Manning said.
There was also the team's routine no-phone rule the night before games, which Manning said helped players not worry about the coronavirus “hysteria.”
“The fact that they didn’t have their phones, and they didn’t keep seeing Twitter feeds or texts saying, ‘Are you going to play, are you going to play? They’re not letting fans in.’ I think that helped them out, not having to deal with all the stress,” Manning said. “That just helped them stay normal.”
And despite Friday's final outcome, falling 47-33 to Los Lunas, KC cherishes stepping onto the hardwood for that final stage in consecutive years.
“We’re grateful. They could’ve easily said we’re not finishing the tournament, don’t get me wrong,” Manning said. “We were sitting up late (Wednesday night) trying to figure out what was going to happen... It was just more mind-boggling than anything else."
Matt Hollinshead covers sports for the Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577 and on Twitter at @MattH_717.
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