Boys golf earning great reputation in state

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The Socorro High School boys golf team has a reputation of being among the top competitors in the state.

This tradition began in the 1980s and '90s when Tony Gonzales and Anton Salome coached the team. Now, under the direction of Russell Moore, the team continues to achieve. Moore is in his seventh year of coaching the boys golf team at Socorro High School.

Moore was born in Fort Collins, Colo. He and his family moved to Las Vegas, N.M., in 1973 where he finished his junior and senior years at Robinson High School in 1975 then graduated from Highlands University in 1979.

Moore said he originally got in the golf business in Houston. He later took a job with a friend in Albuquerque who asked him to be his assistant golf pro at New Mexico Tech in 1981.

Moore said Socorro High School had good golf coaches in the '80s and '90s in Tony Gonzales and Anton Salome. When they retired from coaching, a turnover of coaches started. The high school boy's team had three different coaches in three consecutive years.

"I thought, they're not going to get any better unless they have some continuity and stability in the program, so I began coaching them in 2006," Moore said. "I inherited a great group of boys. That was one of the reasons that I got into it. I felt that those boys were good enough to compete at the state tournament, but they never had. They had never qualified to go to state, so I decided to get them ready to compete in the state tournament and go on to win it. And that's exactly what happened in my first year, 2006."

That year Randy Torres won the individual state championship under Moore's guidance. Other members of the winning team were Gavin Torres, Scottie Crespin, Charles Saavedra and Ryan Romero.

"It was a great group of boys and supposed to finish in the top five but they won state championship that year," Moore said. "I realized that we had to increase the depth. We had to have more players. That's been my goal since I've been the golf coach for the high school, to have more people playing.

"This year is the first time that we've had 20 boys playing. We've played in eight different tournaments this year, and I've had six different groups of five players each time."

Moore said that it is the competition within the group itself that's made the team so much better. He said they are competing not only to play better themselves, but they compete so they can go on a trip.

"I feel that's why our scores have improved in the past couple of years," Moore said. "Actually, they (the players) seem more competitive to qualify to go on the trip than they are when they play in the tournament."

On Monday, 14-year-old eighth-grader Brett Anaya, who had failed to qualify as one of five team members to represent the Socorro team, ended up winning the boys tournament as an individual player with a score of 75. The Socorro team fell short of winning the tournament by one stroke. They lost to their rivals from Hope Christian, to whom they had lost in their last encounter, also by only one stroke. Hope Christian won Monday's boys team tournament with a score of 315. The Socorro team shot 316.

The boys have won six out of the eight tournaments they've played in this year.

"Our goal is to unseat the defending champion," Moore said. "We have to try to compete with those private schools."

Private schools, in all classes and all sports and activities, have a distinct advantage. They are able to attract and entice the better players, whereas public schools have to adhere to strict rules requiring students to attend schools in their specific district.

The Socorro boys team hasn't had a state championship since 2006 but has finished third twice in 2008 and 2010, and second once in 2012.

Moore bragged on the Socorro girls team. He said that the girls have a tremendous amount of talent that allows them to compete successfully at the state level.

"You can't argue with the girls' six state championships, that's phenomenal," Moore said. "I believe that we have a tremendous treasure here in the New Mexico Tech Golf Course. Not many towns of less than 10,000 people have a good 18-hole golf course."

Socorro is a big golf town, and the high school teams get a lot of support from the community. The city of Socorro sponsors a summer program open to everyone ages 6 to 18. That, along with the junior golf program that's also supported by the city, plus the in-school golf programs in place in the elementary schools and throughout the middle schools, contributes to the tradition of having great quality.

The New Mexico Tech course is one of the top 10 golf courses in the state. Lee Trevino played in Socorro in the New Mexico Open back in the day. Nancy Lopez, who played for Roswell High School, played here and won the state women's championship as a 14-year-old. And a local girl, Nancy Romero, won five or six state titles.

Both the boys and girls teams participated in the Leroy Gooch Tournament in Ruidoso on April 15 and 16. Eighteen teams competed in classes 3, 4 and 5A; the girls beat every team in the tournament. The girls have won all their tournaments and boys have won six of seven. The boys only lost to Hope Christian at Seery Invitational and then to Class 5A Hobbs.

The Socorro teams will compete in Deming on Thursday. It should be a good test for the girls as Deming is one of the better teams in the state.

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