Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Hagerman’s boys’ basketball coach Anthony Mestas was used to this feeling. That anxious feeling right before something big is about to happen. He had been to the state championship Class A game many times, but this time was different.
Mestas had won it all before in a close game, going wire-to-wire with an undefeated team, two years earlier. As he sat on the bench working his gum during his team’s warmups, Mestas just knew he had the team to win it all again. As they had all year long, they would find a way to get it done and win against Escalante.
The Hagerman football team had just finished a perfect season, giving Hagerman football their second championship in three years. And the basketball team was trying to win their second title in four years, as well.
After winning it all in football, Mestas, also the school’s athletic director, had a goal of trying to win the Director’s Cup. The cup is based on if a school gets enough in championships and points in their classification to win the trophy. Hagerman would not get enough points.
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As the academic year turned from 2013 to 2014, Mestas knew he would have players back from a team that had lost to Cliff in 2012, in the quarterfinals, 65-49, the year before.
Mestas was building a basketball juggernaut — in 2011, he was one of a handful of coaches to go undefeated in a season, and one of 13 teams in the state of New Mexico to go undefeated in 2011.
The Bobcats went 31-0 overall and 7-0 in district play in 2011. He went on to beat Cliff and legendary coach Pete Shock, giving them their only defeat of the season, at 70-58, Hagerman would win their third blue trophy since 1924.
“What was amazing,” Mestas said. “We had some great athletes who were hungry and coachable. Our Hagerman teams loved playing together and being together.”
One of the keys to their success was Mario Morales, the weight lifting coach. Mestas felt like his athletes were in better condition and allowed for his teams to run and press and be stronger in the month of March.
Mestas led Hagerman to a record of 244-57 in 10 seasons. Hagerman won the district title eight out of 10 years; he was the head coach. He would become the winningest basketball coach in the history of Hagerman, with a winning percentage of .811.
“As a professional,” Mestas said, “starting out my career over there at Hagerman, we didn’t know how to lose over there. I just cannot explain it. To lose 50 games in 10 years, you just don’t realize how fortunate you are to be in that environment.”
Every year Mestas was head coach, he led the ‘Cats to the semifinals, except for the ‘11 season, which the team reached the quarterfinals. That is the season Hagerman started to reload for another championship run.
The following season, Hagerman would finish runner-up and then in 2014 win the Blue Trophy. But 2014 would prove to be Mestas’ final year at Hagerman as the team would go, 26-4, and beat Escalante, 56-41, for the Class A title.
Support and help
Mestas credits Hagerman’s principal, Michael Chavez, and Steve Starkey, Hagerman’s superintendent at the time, for being supportive to him and the Hagerman students and athletics.
One of the key games that season was when Hagerman was down by 12 points to Dexter at Dexter. The Bobcats would find a way to come back and win, 59-50. Dexter would end up winning a state title in 2A that season.
Mestas knew he had a special team when Hagerman lost to Mesilla Valley, 67-41 in the Dexter Tournament. Mestas had his team on the floor practicing for an hour and a half after the game when they got back to Hagerman. Mestas wanted the team to work on some things that they did not do well in the game.
“I wasn’t mad at them (team),” Mestas said, “I knew the kind of talent we had, and I just wanted to reinforce some things we didn’t do well. Our kids were good, and we were stacked.”
The next night, Hagerman was beaten by Carlsbad junior varsity team, 89-79. Mestas was not deterred or down after the loss. Mestas did not feel bad losing to Carlsbad, because when that junior varsity team were seniors, they lost in the state final game to Onate.
Reflecting back at the teams he coached at Hagerman, Mestas feels like his players gave him everything they had and were dedicated to their craft. Mestas is so appreciative of the effort his players gave him.
After their last loss of the season, the ‘Cats went on an 11-game winning streak. The one game that stands out to Mestas in the playoffs was against To’hajiilee in the quarterfinals.
Making an impact
The game was played at Bernalillo High School, and it was standing-room only. The team won because of their ability to hit their free throws and because of the way the team could handle the ball.
The ‘Cats would play and defeat Springer in the semifinal and hold their leading scorer to 15 points. In the title game against Escalante, Hagerman’s defense was the key. Hagerman would hold the Lobos’ 6-foot-6 player, Adam Edwards below his scoring average.
Mestas knows that he could not achieve the success he had at Hagerman without his assistant coaches, Casey Crandall, Andrew Rodriguez and Jesus Trujillo, and his weightlifting coach, Morales. He knows how fortunate he was to have kids that wanted to win and have the community support from their parents, as well.
“Hagerman is the pearl of the Pecos Valley,” Mestas said.
Mestas keeps in touch with the players from the Hagerman teams. Many of his ex-players will call, email or text to offer congratulations to him for a big win at Goddard.
Mestas’ impact can be felt on former players such as how Alejandro Ramos’ life was impacted by Mestas so much that he wanted to become a teacher and coach. He was recently hired as a teacher at Roswell. Ramos felt the thing he and his teammates benefited from was Mestas’ unflappable demeanor before a game. Mestas always was relaxed and showed confidence in himself and his team.
“With coach,” Ramos said, “he held us accountable and taught his discipline. He showed us how to be confident in each other and ourselves. He is one of the reasons I became a teacher.”
“I was very fortunate to coach those kids,” Mestas said. “It was always more than just basketball; I knew those students since they were in first and second grade. Those kids were family to me.”
Sports editor J.T. Keith can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 304, or firstname.lastname@example.org.