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Artesia to host City of Champions Classic

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Artesia senior Mattie McCombs during a recent practice. The Lady Dogs are hosting Ruidoso Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at the Bulldog Pit during the City of Champions Classic, which concludes Saturday in Artesia. (Mike Smith Photo)

ARTESIA — Consider it the changing of the seasons in Artesia.

After experiencing playoff appearances in volleyball and soccer and a state championship in football last weekend, the Artesia High basketball teams are shifting gears for basketball season.

For boys head coach Michael Mondragon this Thursday’s game against Goddard in the opening round of the City of Champions Classic will be the season opener for his squad. For the past few weeks the majority of his players were in football mode as the Bulldogs won their 30th state title over Belen on Saturday.

It’s a different story for girls head coach Jeff Houghtaling. Last week the Lady Dogs got a head start on the boys by defeating Santa Teresa(61-24)at home.

“It was good to get that first game started and out of the way,” he said. “Breaks up the long monotony of practice and now we’re gonna be ready for that tournament.”

The tournament starts Thursday and runs through Saturday at the Bulldog Pit.

“We have a great field,” Houghtaling said. He said APS officials are getting close to having the tournament be a “prestigious one”.

“We offer a lot of things to the teams coming in,” he said. “We feed them a meal everyday and we put a few teams up in hotels and of course we have fantastic facilities to play in here in the Pit.”

Houghtaling said this year’s field on the ladies side is “strong.”

“Maybe the strongest we’ve had in a long time,” he said.

Carlsbad, Kirtland Central, Goddard, Gallup, Lovington, Silver and Ruidoso make up this years field.

“We’ve got a good mix,” Houghtaling said. “We think that makes our tournament high quality.”

Thursday at 6:30 p.m. the Lady Dogs will open the tournament with Ruidoso.

“Ruidoso year in and year out is a pretty quality opponent,” Houghtaling said.

“They always have some kids that can shoot well (and) traditionally they have some big kids. We’re expecting a good solid game,” Houghtaling added.

“We like to think that’s the prime spot,” Houghtaling said of the nighttime game. “Folks are getting off work at that time and can make it to the gym, we always get a great crowd that night.”

Houghtaling added that fans will also get some special treats during the tournament.

He said a 3-point tournament is set for opening night. “That’s always exciting, all of the teams are usually in the gym, that’s fun for the fans, they can come in and watch all the good shooters from all the teams around the state compete at the 3-point line,” he added.

While the Lady Dogs are playing in the night cap Thursday, the Bulldogs will start play Thursday at 10 a.m. against district foe Goddard.

Unlike the Bulldogs, the Rockets have a number of games under their belt.

Artesia head coach Michael Mondragon said he contacted Goddard head coach Anthony Mestas regarding the early start. Mondragon said he wants to see every Artesia Public Schools student in the Bulldog Pit that morning.

“We’re gonna do a buyout for the whole school,” Mondragon said.

Mondragon said the game should be a festive atmosphere as the school band will be playing as well.

Along with Artesia and Goddard, the boys side also has Las Cruces Onate, Lovington, Rio Rancho, El Paso Parkland, Carlsbad and Gallup.

“Very competitive field,” Hougtaling added. “It’ll be a girls game, boys game, girls game, boys game, back-and-forth and a lot of exciting basketball to watch.”

To view a bracked of the tournament visit rdrnews.com.