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Neighbors teaches seniors life lessons one last time

Goddard senior Tanya Ueland (15) goes around an Artesia defender Friday night at Ground Zero. (Steve Notz Photo)

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Goddard girls’ basketball coach Jared Neighbors was hoping there would be a season. This season didn’t turn out like last year, because they are on the outside looking in. His team is 7-4 overall and 4-2 in district play this year and on the fence. Goddard is ninth and only eight teams are getting in. Goddard did not make the state tournament when the brackets were announced late Saturday night.

Goddard was hoping that on strength of schedule their body of work would be enough. Their losses were to the No. 1 ranked teams in the state. Goddard played Portales, the No. 1 team in District 4-4A to the wire before losing in overtime on the road. The other tough loss was to them at home. No one has solved the offensive force Hobbs has been this season. Outside a loss to 5A Roswell, a team in which they missed 53 shots proved to be an anomaly.

There was hope that when the committee went back to decide Goddard’s fate, they would have considered how well the Lady Rockets were playing now; and the fearlessness in which they played all comers without worrying about style points or trying to pad their schedule with easy wins to make it into the tournament.

No matter how it turns out when the committee decides Goddard’s fate at 9 p.m. Saturday, there is hope that the senior class can have one more shot at Portales. If Friday night’s game was any indication of how much they have improved, the committee will see that Goddard is one of the strongest teams playing their best basketball now as they rolled over Artesia with a 77-47 win at Ground Zero.

“This is bittersweet,” Goddard coach Jared Neighbors said. “Right now, the way it is set, we are the first team out. Unfortunately, the state doesn’t look at that, three of our four losses are to the No. 1 teams in the state, the No. 1 team in 5A and the No. 1 team in 4A. Our strength of schedule is tops, if they don’t look at that, then one of the best teams in the state (is) going to be left out.”

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No matter what, this game was a victory lap for Neighbors and the girls he treats like daughters. Making the playoffs is nice for Neighbors, but his real mission in life is to teach life lessons and instill the values that will make these young ladies successful after they have last dribbled a basketball.

A smile comes across his face when he mentions how blessed he feels just to have a season with his team and the four seniors that will not be back. Neighbors could not say enough good things about Sarah Mathison and her sister, Emily Mathison.

Nor could he talk about how much Tanya Ueland has improved her game in four years playing for him. Finally, Neighbors beamed when he talked about the role Alexis Ramirez played for the team, with her enthusiasm for being one of the first players off the bench, to give an encouraging word to her teammates no matter how things were going.

This senior class adjusted to a youth movement when Neighbors decided to play freshmen and sophomores into the lineup two years ago. He also changed their style of play and made the Lady Rockets into a running team. Not one of these seniors argued, they embraced change and put their personal feelings aside for the good of the team.

“I just told our team to live every day to the fullest,” Neighbors said. “Tomorrow’s not promised to anyone and no one is guaranteed tomorrow. With our game being canceled against Roswell, that is a perfect example of it. We live this today and played great ball today. We played four quarters today. This is a testament to why you live every day to the fullest.”

It is always hard to say goodbye but this team will hold special memories for Neighbors. One of his hopes is Goddard will be beaten on the court by an opponent and not by a committee. Neighbors said to play 11 games in one month with 11 practices is a great team.

“I always tell our kids,” Neighbors said, “there is more to life than basketball, and if we don’t make it, then that’s the lesson to live every day to the fullest and we’re not guaranteed tomorrow; the pandemic taught us that. We are going to wait 24 hours and see what the selection committee does, and hope that we get in. If we get in, we will come fighting.”

Looking forward to next year, Goddard has leading scorer Alexis Sandoval back as a senior. She had 27 points in the game against Artesia. Three-point shooter Daci Smith will be a junior — she added 15 points against Artesia. Speed demon Ericca Cannon will be a junior and chipped in an efficient 10 points. Also back will be Ailyn Miramontes, Alyssa Linares, Alexis Hoover, and maybe the best overall athlete on the team, Ambrosia Teasyatwho will be back to name a few of the players returning.

“These kids are fun to be around,” Neighbors said. “They’re a great group of kids. I’m going to miss this team. This team won’t be a team again if we don’t make it to the playoffs. This is a great team. The future is bright. We talk about life all of the time and these are some life lessons this team has learned, whether they have won a blue trophy or not. I’m not about Xs and Os, I’m about life and loving on kids and creating a family atmosphere. We were able to do that in one month (with) what we teach over here. This was a great way to finish.”

Sports editor J.T. Keith can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 304, or sports@rdrnews.com.

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