By Tony A. Archuleta
The Hot Springs varsity girls basketball team opens the season at the Gadsden Tournament in Las Cruces later this week, and first-year Lady Tigers head coach Charles Donohoe is looking to keep the program on pace for a fourth consecutive state tournament appearance.
Donohoe, who was hired last May, succeeds Walt Sanchez, who by any reasonable measure turned around a program that had been struggling mightily before his arrival. Sanchez was released midseason during the 2012-‘13 campaign due to credentialing issues related to his job as a special education instructor at Truth or Consequences Middle School.
Sanchez built a program around two players in particular: pointguard Sarai Clendenin and post Tessa Jones, who both started as freshman and who were on track to lead Hot Springs to perhaps new heights in this, their senior year at HSHS.
However, Clendenin, a top performer in track, appears to be sticking with that sport exclusively this year at HSHS.
As the primary ball-handler, especially her sophomore and junior seasons, Clendenin was one of the main reasons the Lady Tigers went from a program known for making more turnovers than taking shot attempts to actually putting themselves in good position to win games.
In tight games last season, Clendenin’s aggressive drives to the basket usually resulted in trips to the free throw line where she coolly sunk free throws late to ice games.
Fortunately for the Lady Tigers, Jones, the talented 6-foot-2 post, is back for her senior year, although she spent much of the off-season recovering from a separated shoulder.
Jones, who also excels in track, missed the volleyball season on account of the injury, but was recently medically cleared to start basketball practice.
“She’s doing real well. We ran her through some drills, her conditioning seems fine,” Donohoe said during an interview Friday, Nov. 9. “It’s just that we’re restricting her on a couple of things with her shoulder.”
As for Clendenin, Donohoe said, “She hasn’t told me personally what she’s doing. No, she has not been practicing.”
The Tigers started practice on Monday, Nov. 5, but like his boys basketball counterpart at HSHS, Brad Bailey, Donohoe had to wait until the conclusion of the fall sports season to get a clearer picture of his preseason roster.
The volleyball team’s season ended last Thursday at Socorro, and a handful of players are expected to join the basketball team starting Monday.
Volleyball player Limor Johnson, a 3-point sharp shooter as a freshman last season, surprised Donohoe by showing up for practice on Friday.
With the school year over when Donohoe was hired last spring, it was difficult to put together a full summer program, but a small group of ladies, mostly underclassmen, did show up.