By John Eisel: CNJ sports writer
Cibola’s stay at the top didn’t last long.
Clovis regained the top spot in this week’s Albuquerque Journal Coaches’ Poll, a combination of the Wildcats starting District 4-5A play with a pair of wins while the Cougars opened with a pair of stunning losses.
“It was going well until we started district,” Cibola coach Ray Rodriguez said.
Cibola’s 6-foot-6 junior post Kasey Cunningham battled foul trouble in a 77-58 loss to Hobbs in the Cougars’ district opener and was held out of a 55-43 loss to Sandia on Tuesday while trying to recover from a rolled ankle.
Cunningham is averaging 18.7 points and 13.9 rebounds a game for Cibola (15-3, 0-2 district), which dropped to third in the state-wide poll.
Rodriguez said Wednesday the chance he’ll play at home tonight against the Wildcats are 50/50.
If Cunningham plays, it will match up two of the top post players in the state. Tigg Bunton, a 6-8 Clovis senior, is averaging 19.5 points and more than eight rebounds.
Cunningham and Bunton are being recruited by Division-I schools, including New Mexico.
“It’ll be a great match-up for the two,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said given his team’s situation, the remaining 4-5A games are all must-wins.
“If we’re going to stay in the race, we’re going to have to even some things out with the top teams and Clovis is certainly one of those,” he said.
Meanwhile, a win over Cibola would give the Wildcats wins over every district teams with a winning record.
“All along, we felt if we could go to Cibola and get a win, we’d be in the driver’s seat,” Clovis coach J.D. Isler said.
Isler said the Cats are still wary of Cibola, despite their winless district start.
“We’re expecting them to have that attitude that, ‘Hey, it’s us against the world.’ So we’re expecting a tight game,” he said.
Meanwhile, Cibola girls coach Doug Dorame is just hoping his team will keep tonight’s game against the top-ranked and unbeaten Lady Wildcats at Rock Staubus Gym tight as long as possible.
Dorame said Clovis (20-0, 2-0) is the best team the Lady Cougars (10-7, 1-1) will face all year.
Dorame believes his team will have trouble controlling Clovis junior posts Aimee Hilburn and Brittany Blackmon, who combine to average more than 34 points a game. The Cougars’ tallest players is 6-2 Kara Bible, but she’s only a sophomore.
“We have trouble stopping bigger teams like Clovis,” Dorame said.
The Cougars’ strength is on the perimeter. Cibola’s top scorers are senior forward Nikohl Martinez (14 ppg) and guards Holli Ward (12) and Stefani Vallejos (10).
Clovis (17-2, 2-0) at Cibola (15-3, 0-2), 7 p.m. tonight
Last game: Clovis beat Hobbs 60-48; Cibola lost to Sandia 55-43.
Cibola players to watch: Kasey Cunningham, P, Jr.; Roman Andrade, PG, Sr.
By the numbers: Through 19 games, the Wildcats have out-rebounded teams by an average of 31-20.
Cibola (9-7, 1-1) at Clovis (20-0, 2-0), 7 p.m. tonight
Last week: Clovis beat Hobbs 69-43; Cibola lost to Sandia 58-48.
Cibola players to watch: Nikohl Martinez, F, 5-9, Sr.; Holli Ward, G, 5-5, Sr.; Stefani Vallejos, G, 5-5, Sr.
Notable: According to Cibola coach Doug Dorame, Clovis and Cibola were the first high school girls teams to play at “The Pit” (1990 state tournament).
— Complied by CNJ sports writer John Eisel