By Kevin Wilson: PNT Staff Writer
It’s mid-afternoon on Thursday at the Portales High School Gym, and girls basketball coach Brenda Gomez is in a prep period.
A cellular phone rings on Gomez’ desk, and it’s her daughter Roni on the other end. The phone call is telling. While it’s a call about the present — a junior college game Roni just played in for South Plains College — it’s a bridge to the past. The call from Roni Gomez, one piece in a puzzle that produced three Class 3A state titles from 2000 to 2004, is accompanied by a polyphonic ringtone to the tune, “We Are the Champions.”
It’s a tune Portales currently can’t lay a claim to on the basketball court, and Brenda Gomez hopes that will change in March. The first part of the mission starts Tuesday at Carlsbad, followed by a Nov. 29 home date against Muleshoe.
When Roni Gomez, Erika Cook and Kassandra Richards graduated in 2004, they left voids of three starting positions and nearly 40 points per game. Portales eventually found replacements in 2004-05, but ended the season five points short in the state title game against Santa Fe Indian School.
“With what we lost the year before, and to get back to that game, it was a positive,” Brenda Gomez said. “Once we got there and didn’t finish, I was disappointed.”
There are 10 others who know that feeling at Portales practice every day — those are the varsity members that return for this season, including four starters. Portales graduated guards Patty Terry and Stefanie Sharrock after last year’s 16-12 campaign.
Santa Fe Indian School had no seniors on its roster last year and is expected to make a strong bid at repeating. But Gomez has a case for the Lady Rams as well.
“I think we have everything,” Gomez said. “We have toughness inside, good speed, quickness and basketball sense.”
Senior post Megan Kabrick concurs.
“I think (losing last year) just makes us feel like we’re going to go out and work harder,” Kabrick said. “That loss was really big.”
Kabrick missed half of her sophomore year with a torn anterior cruciate ligament and watched a still-loaded Portales team roll to the 3A title in 2003. When she returned, Kabrick was with a whole new roster of players.
“We lost so many people,” Kabrick said. “The first year without (Gomez, Cook and Richards) was a shock for us.”
One of Kabrick’s new teammates was Bethany Self, who stepped in as a freshman and was starting by the end of the season. Now she looks forward to a sophomore year that should have more consistency from the team that surprised the fans every night last year, for better or worse.
At one point Portales defeated District 4-3A rival Lovington 70-26 behind a 21-point effort from Self, but later lost to the same Lovington squad by a 57-46 margin.
“Sometimes we played our best and other times we didn’t play well,” Self said. “We’re a lot more experienced. We know what to expect.”
One thing to possibly expect are early struggles with a tough schedule and many players only a week removed from a state championship volleyball season. While she thinks the team is better off for getting a tough championship experience recently, the differences between the sports makes for a tough transition.
“You have time to recuperate a lot more than you do in basketball,” Gomez said. “We won’t be in any kind of really good condition until January.”
By that point, Portales will have played the toughest part of its scheduled with a regular season matchup against Clovis (Dec. 2), the Mel Otero Tournament in Rio Rancho (Dec. 8-10) and the Clovis Classic (Dec. 28-30). Including the Jan. 17 road game, Portales could have as many as four games against Clovis, which comes into the season defending a Class 5A title and a 30-game winning streak.
“It wil be a challenge and we’ll have to play to our potential,” Gomez said. “Sometimes we’ll have to play above our potential.”