Pojoaque High girls’ coach Matt Martinez comes down The Pit ramp with his Elkettes in March 1998. (Courtesy photo).
The state basketball tournaments at The Pit are always emotional, often happy, times for not only coaches taking their teams down the ramp to contend for a state championship but also for the coaches who have “been there, done that.”
Such is the case for Cleveland High Athletic Director Matt Martinez, who will be honored, along with his former players, in light of the 25-year anniversary of Pojoaque High School winning the Class AAA girls title in 1998.
He said most, if not all, of those former players, are expected there at halftime of the Class 4A girls’ championship game that tips off at 7 p.m. on Friday, March 10.
He’s never missed a state tournament in the past 40-plus years, he said, and myriad memories come flooding back each time he’s in there.
That was a memorable season for Martinez and his team, the proverbial “third time was the charm” after losses in the ’96 and ’97 championship games.
The Elkettes finished the regular season 24-0 and earned the No. 1 seed for state.
In order, they beat No. 6 St. Pius X*, 48-41, in a pre-playoff contest in brand-new Rio Rancho High School; beat No. 9 Tohatchi, 64-51, in a quarterfinal in The Pit; beat No. 7 Silver, 54-38, in a semifinal; and then squeaked past No. 2 Kirtland Central, 67-65, to win the blue trophy.
Memories like that are hard to forget for Martinez.
“Coming off the loss the year before … and having another excellent season with excellent players and coming in an being undefeated going to the state tournament. Every game was a pressure game, just to stay where we were,” Martinez said. “It was a tough championship game. I never thought that we would even being playing Kirtland or Shiprock, because they were the powers at the time.”
His 1997-98 team was basically the same team that lost to Moriarty the season before. “It was easy to put that together, just regroup,” he said. “Every day in practice, we worked harder and harder.
“We had an all-around team, eight or nine deep,” he said. “If somebody didn’t do the job, somebody else would come in and do the job for them. Defensively, it was an outstanding team; on offense, we had the highest-scoring team we’d had at Pojoaque.”
Cristal Garcia, one of his standout guards from back in the day who followed her high school career with a stint playing for the University of New Mexico – she loved The Pit then and still does — said Martinez was successful because of “his determination to always make us the best players we could be.
“Every day we worked on fundamentals,” she said. “He gave us the tools and the confidence to always step on the court and know that we were the very best team out there – and that the only (team) that could beat us was ourselves.”
Maybe more importantly, in the long run she said, was “Matt made the game fun; he always had us prepared mentally, but also physically, to go to battle with any team.”
So he’s obviously used to success, which he’s still enjoying with the Storm.
Martinez the basketball player
Growing up in Mora, he was a point guard for the Rangers, happily setting up scoring leader Mark Cassidy.
“Every time that I came down (the floor), that was my first option, to look for him,” Martinez said. “I got the ball to him every time he got open. He was a natural going to the ball. Anytime I would drive, he would come to the ball and he continued that (scoring success) at Highlands.”
Martinez graduated from Mora High in 1976.
“We lost to Jal in 1975 in the semifinals,” he said, unable to forget a game in which a win would have prepared his Rangers for a shot at a championship. Jal went on to win the Class AA championship game, while the Rangers won the third-place game, so a green trophy was taken back north.
Martinez the A.D
Martinez said he thought about coaching someday when he was in the seventh grade.
“I just grew up loving sports, and at that time I knew I wanted to be a coach and teach P.E.,” he said. “I coached basketball and track at Pojoaque.”
Martinez stayed at PHS after his hoops success to be the school’s athletic director, until he retired in 2017.
During his days with the Elkettes, Pojoaque won 22 state sports titles, finished runner-up 19 times and won 45 district titles from when he started there in 1984.
Like so many other coaches-turned-administrators – Larry Chavez and Bruce Carver come to mind — Martinez returned to the prep sports scene in 2018 when he was named athletic director at Cleveland High School, replacing Chavez, who became the A.D. for the director, a position later assumed by Carver.
“I was happy and retired,” Martinez told the Santa Fe New Mexican after getting the post at Cleveland. “I never thought I’d be an athletic director again, then this job came open. I didn’t know if I had a chance at it, but I ended up getting it.”
“I’m happy to be here in Rio Rancho; it’s been a great career for me,” he said. “It’s come full circle.”
In 2018, he was inducted into the NMAA Hall of Fame.
(* The late Phil Griego of Rio Rancho was the Sartans’ coach.)
Pojoaque’s memorable 10-season run
(four final four appearances)
1990: Lost to champion Shiprock in semifinals, 62-59.
1991: Lost to Oñate in quarterfinals, 41-37.
1993: Lost to Shiprock in quarterfinals, 78-64.
1994: Lost to Shiprock in quarterfinals, 58-55.
1995: Lost to Socorro in pre-playoffs, 61-53.
1996: Lost to Kirtland Central in the championship game, 61-55. “We were happy to be there,” Martinez said. “We played them toe-to-toe.”
1997: Lost to Moriarty in the championship game, 53-47. Moriarty was coached Bobby McIntyre in what was his final season with the Pintos; the next season, he was coaching the RRHS girls.
1998: Undefeated state champions. (See story, above)
1999: Lost to Artesia in the semifinals, 64-58; beat Silver 70-60 for third place.