For the past 20-plus years, the Observer has compiled a list of the top 10 — sometimes top 12 — sports stories in the city of Rio Rancho and published it in late December or early January. Sports Editor Gary Herron compiles a list and consults with the local athletic directors to obtain their input. The top 10 stories and a photo to accompany every one of them will soon appear in the Observer’s print edition. Here, then, is a recap of stories 1-5; stories 6-10 were published online Dec. 31.

5. CHS football team in fifth title game in a row

The Cleveland High School football teams’ accomplishments land them in the city’s top sports stories on an annual basis, many times because the Storm have won another state championship.

Not so in 2023, when the No.1 Storm allowed three long touchdown runs by visiting La Cueva. CHS’s inability to convert on third down ultimately left Cleveland as 6A runners-up at Lightning Bolt Stadium.

The Bears avenged an earlier loss at Cleveland (9-4) and took home the blue trophy after their decisive 35-14 victory.

More than 2 inches of snow on the field from a Nov. 24 snowfall pushed the starting time back about 45 minutes, but the cold, wet turf and a temperature of 40 degrees at kickoff didn’t seem to bother Bears junior quarterback Cam Dyer, once a student in Rio Rancho Public Schools.

Cleveland scored on its second possession, a nine-play, 52-yard drive set up after Dyer and a teammate coughed up a handoff in the backfield. Harris Mbueha scored on a 4-yard run, and Miguel Quiñones booted the point-after for a 7-0 lead.

The Storm were just 4 for 15 on third-down plays, and two of those conversions came on the drive that led to their first touchdown. Their final TD of ’23 came on a short run by Marcus La Cuesta late in the first half, which led to a 21-14 halftime deficit. The Bears (10-3) added a 66-yard TD run and a short TD pass to ice — “snow”? — the contest.

The Bears only had six third-down plays all game, converting four of them.

Mbueha had another great day, rushing for 120 yards on 28 carries, although he was overshadowed by Dyer’s 221 yards on 18 carries.

“We shot ourselves in the foot,” CHS second-year coach Robert Garza said. “Give credit to them — they had a good plan.”

La Cueva, which lost the 2022 championship game on its home field, Wilson Stadium in Albuquerque, also beat the Storm at Lightning Bolt Stadium in the 2018 title tilt, 33-14.

To get to the championship game, the Storm won the 1-6A title with a 37-0 shutout of host Rio Rancho in the regular-season finale, blanked Hobbs 45-0 in a quarterfinal game, beat the Rams again, 38-7, in a semifinal, also at Rio Rancho Stadium.

4. Storm boys run track and field streak to seven

Piling up 91 points, the Cleveland High School boys track and field team ran, jumped and threw their way to another state championship, their seventh in a row, on a warm Saturday afternoon in May.

From 2016-19 and from 2021-23, excluding the pandemic 2020 season without a state meet, the CHS program has been a dynasty in the state under coach Kenny Henry.

Three-sport standouts Stratton Shufelt and Nic Trujillo — also teammates on the Storm’s 2021 and ’22 football championship teams and on the varsity basketball teams the past two seasons — led the way with an individual championship, while Trujillo — in the fall a redshirt receiver member of the University of New Mexico football team — also was on a winning relay team and a runner-up relay team.

La Cueva, with 53 points, was second; Organ Mountain (40) was third.

Rio Rancho High School (37) placed fourth in the 22-team field.

Here are the champs’ points-getters (first- through sixth-place finishers):

Finishing first were Shufelt in the shot put (55-2.5); Trujillo — who garnered a team-high 12 points — in the high jump (school record/6-10); Isaac Medrano in the javelin (180-2); the medley relay team (Andres Aguirre, Tyler Griffith, Landon Stewart and Caden Nunn/3:36.26) and the 4×400 relay team (Trujillo, Elijah Griego, Michel Haynes and Aiden Joyner).

The 4×200 relay team (Haynes, Trujillo, Stewart and Griffith) was second, as was Nunn in the 800. Jordan Mora was second in the javelin, Griego was second in the 300 hurdles and Wysong set a school record with his runner-up spot in the long jump.

Shufelt was third in the discus. The 4×800 relay team (Nunn, Emmanuel Ruiz, Colin Ross and Kyler Badwarrior) set a school record and was third. Griego was third in the 110-high hurdles.

The 4×100 relay team (Andres Aguirre, Nic Trujillo, Evan Wysong and Tyler Griffith) was fourth, and Wysong was fourth in the 400.

Gabriel Marquez was sixth in the shot put.

3. Rams win fourth title in school history

Sixth-seeded Centennial scored the game’s first four runs and the last two on a May Saturday afternoon at Santa Ana Star Field, but it was the nine runs scored by Rio Rancho between those bursts that gave the No. 1 Rams the state championship, after a 9-6 win over Centennial.

It’s the Rams’ fourth state title in their 25 seasons of existence, and oddly, all four have been claimed in odd years: 2007, ’09, ’13 and now 2023. The team lost its other two championship games in even years, 2010 and ’16.

The victory was the Rams’ 25th in their last 26 ballgames, and the second time they’d won 27 games in a season, having gone 27-3 in 2010, when they were the 2 seed and lost the championship game to La Cueva at Isotopes Park.

It gave the District 1-5A champs their fourth tournament title of the season: They won a Southern New Mexico crown in Las Cruces, the APS Metro Championship and their own Sal Puentes Rio Rancho Tournament. Coming back from their annual season opening in El Paso, where they went 2-1-2, the Rams (27-2-2) lost but once, 3-2 to visiting Volcano Vista on April 28, which ended a 20-game win streak. (An errant pickoff led to the Hawks’ victory.)

Ace Seth Lee (8-0) didn’t have his best stuff in the showdown with Centennial (26-5), as he walked the first two batters he faced, gave up a triple and a rare, costly error by right fielder Sean Vigil helped the Hawks grab a 4-0 lead before the first out.

Down 4-0 as they came to the plate for the first time, the Rams got a leadoff bunt single by Casen Savage, Kai Fitak was hit by a pitch and Vascon Smith doubled home Savage. Vigil got an infield single that plated Fitak and Dean Ellison walked. Dylan Archuleta then knotted the game at with a two-run single to center.

The Rams took the lead to keep with two-out doubles by Niko Alcala and Smith in the second; they made it 6-4 with a solo run in the fourth, again after there were two outs, on another two-bagger by Alcala and an RBI single by Fitak.

Ryan Lewis relieved Lee and kept the Hawks off the scoreboard.

The Rams added three insurance runs in their half of the sixth. Dylan Tinker started the rally with a one-out single and continued to third on an error. Savage drove him home with a single, Alcala was hit by a pitch and Fitak concluded the Rams’ scoring for the season with a triple. He was soon erased when he tried to sneak home when a pitch eluded the Hawks’ catcher.

Savage claimed another save, although it wasn’t easy. He struck out the first batter in the seventh before giving up a pair of runs, ultimately striking out the side and preserving the win.

Earlier that week, the Rams ousted Piedra Vista, 6-5, in a semifinal, and Rio Grande, 14-0, in a quarterfinal contest.

2. History made: Rams distance teams sweep championships

For the second time in three seasons, all four of the City of Vision’s cross country teams brought trophies home from the Western Sky Community Care State Cross Country Championships — but this time it was better.

At the 2021 state meet, also held at Albuquerque Academy, the Rio Rancho teams each finished second, while the Cleveland distance teams were third.

This time, the Rams were first in each race and Cleveland was again third in both races.

It was the Rams boys’ fourth championship, and second in a row; it was the girls fourth also, as they also won the 2020 meet, held in the spring of 2021. The Rams boys dominated the sport in the fall, winning every meet they entered.

Charlie Vause, who moved with his family to Rio Rancho from Ohio in the summer, won again, this time giving RRHS its first individual male winner in school history, and only the second champ ever, since the Late Danyel Longmire was a state champ in the fall of 1997, only a few months after the school opened.

Vause’s time was the fastest of the day — for any division, just missing his hoped-for 15-minute time.

The Rams boys finished with a team score of 34, ahead of district foes Volcano Vista (57) and the Storm (94). Eldorado (128) and La Cueva (135) rounded out the top five in the 11-team race.

Rounding out the Rams’ quintet of scorers were Collyn Tomoyose (11th/16:04) and Skyler Galbraith (12th/16:06). Benjamin Miera (20th/16:44) and Chris Beall (34th/17:05) also ran for RRHS. Galbraith and Tomoyose are the only Rams seniors this season.

In winning their meet, which followed the boys, the RRHS girls had a team score of 48, followed by La Cueva (86) and Cleveland (90), without their best runner.

Eighth grader Mariah Galbraith, the daughter of school board president Amanda Galbraith and boys distance runner Skyler’s sister, placed fourth for the winners with a time of 19:28.

RRHS’s Abigail Beam (sixth/19:36) and Lily Hawkins (10th/19:49) gave the Rams a trio of All-State runners; Jordyn Griego (16th/20:12) and Brooke Chisholm (17th/20:12) completed the team’s winning score of 48. Caitlynn Parsons (25th/20:33) and Brianna Robson (41st/21:15) also ran for the Rams.

Both Rams teams were District 1-5A champs, also, with these kids tabbed for All-District honors: Vause, Sullivan, Herrera, Galbraith and Tomoyose of the boys; Beam, Galbraith, Hawkins, and Parsons.

1. Amazing run for Cleveland girls’ soccer team

The Cleveland High School girls’ soccer team chalked up its sixth straight shutout, a 1-0 victory over La Cueva (19-3-1), in the Class 5A championship game on a November Saturday afternoon at University of New Mexico.

The Storm (22-1) won their 18th game in a row, their 12th shutout of the season; the last goal that found the Storm’s net was back on Oct. 14. It more than avenged the Storm’s 2-1 overtime loss to the Bears in the 2017 championship game and erased for upperclassmen the frustration of their 2022 loss to Eldorado, determined via penalty kicks.

Coach Greg Rusk, with more than 150 wins as the Storm’s head coach, knew what holding a blue trophy was like. From 1990-94, when he was at La Cueva, his Bears won it all in 1990-91 and 1993-94, and shared it with Eldorado after a 1-1 draw in 1992 — before PKs settled 100-minute contests.

But this one was extra special for Rusk and the Storm.

Only two teams scored as many as two goals against the champs in the 23-game season: Hobbs, which lost a 4-2 contest to the Storm in the APS Metro Silver bracket, and Rio Rancho, also by the same score in a loss at CHS on Oct. 14. Hope Christian, the Class 3A state champ, handed CHS its only loss, 1-0, in APS Metro pool play.

The Storm got the only goal they’d need in the game’s 28th minute, tallied by senior defender Rylie Pengelly.

“After we won the Academy tournament, we kind of had that momentum going, because we kind of lost that momentum when we lost Metro,” Pengelly said, “but after we won the Academy tournament, it kinda gave us that little push: We realized, this is our season — it’s now or never.”

All-District honors went to Rylie Pengelly and Ella Lent-Koop (Players of the Year), on the first team, along with Sienna Salazar, Kiana Jamerson and Arissa C’de Baca.

Sloane Sinnett, Taylor Williamson, Kiranjit Ahluwalia, Alexus Guillen and Madison Johnson were named to the second team; Aliyah C’de Baca was an honorable mention selection.

Five of the champs were named All-State first-team members: Pengelly, Lent-Koop, Salazar, Arissa C’de Baca and Johnson.