The Montezuma-Cortez High School junior varsity basketball squad traveled to Las Vegas for the AAU West Coast National Championships from July 14-17.
The team – consisting of players Jesse Lopez, Kaydon Yellow, Adrian Mark, Cordell Baer, Michael Diaz, Zeke Vargas, Teegan Whiteskunk and Kale Hall, and coached by M-CHS principal Dr. Jason Wayman and Tim Robinson – competed in the 10th grade and under division with teams from all over the world.
There were over 500 teams from five continents and 30 countries that filled the Las Vegas Convention Center, where there were 55 courts packed into one building.
The Panthers dropped their first three games, which included a 59-26 loss to the eventual consolation bracket winners from California and a 69-42 loss to the eventual champions from Louisiana.
But, they bounced back against Santa Margarita High School (California) in their fourth and final game.
Wayman said that while the Panthers trailed for most of the contest, they were able to keep it close. And with less than ten seconds remaining and trailing by three, they had possession.
After inbounding and getting the ball to the high post, it was kicked out to Adrian Mark, who was fouled while attempting a 3-pointer with 0.2 seconds remaining.
Mark cooly knocked down all three free throws to send the game into overtime.
The Panthers got a steal and scored two consecutive buckets in the extra period, and after a San Margarita triple, Jesse Lopez was fouled and hit a free throw to put M-CHS up by two, and they would go onto win 57-55.
The group from Cortez went 1-3 on the weekend, but playing against top-level competition, they viewed the trip as a valuable learning experience.
“We learned to handle pressure at a much higher level and how we have to work together to neutralize speed and height,” Wayman said in an email. “Good lessons for our kids that will help them when we get to the high school season.”
“Our boys learned how to work together and grew in their team unity,” he continued. “This trust in one another makes for great friendships and even better basketball. It is our hope that we can represent our town well when the season rolls around.”