Sanchez is deserving of a short-term deal to retain her position as head coach for UNM. The first three years were rough, which is why a long-term deal is not likely. However, the head coach should be allowed to prove this season was no fluke.
Sanchez’s remaining at the helm after this season didn’t appear to be a viable option, or even a realistic one, following the start of the year. Coming into her fourth season, Sanchez produced a 39-53 record, only one of which was a winning season. The Mountain West predicted UNM to finish ninth in the conference according to the preseason polls, after finishing in ninth place a year ago.
As if Sanchez wasn’t going through enough pressure trying to produce a winning team, she was forced into a tough decision after team captain and starting center Ebony Walker was arrested and charged with assault. The decision wasn’t easy, but once Sanchez gathered all the evidence from the off-court altercation, the head coach made a judgment call to dismiss one of the best players on the team.
Producing scholars and guiding young women through college with high standards is something Sanchez has always put ahead of playing the game of basketball. A two-year deal would be a reasonable amount of time for Sanchez to continue molding young adults in addition to showcasing her coaching abilities.
With her senior center gone, Sanchez had to push through the rigorous schedule with a young roster and struggled to a 1-7 start. The Lobos faced some of the fiercest competition in the nation playing four top-25 opponents in the first seven games of the season.
Yet she remained confident in her team’s abilities and continued her push to get better every day. The motto never faltered and became a common theme throughout practices all season.
The Lobos dropped the first two Mountain West games on the road, immediately falling to the bottom of the standings. Sanchez and her team were able to come home and play in front of the Pit crowd, which had already witnessed three consecutive wins.
That home stand appeared to be all Sanchez needed to portray the potential of her squad. Following the sluggish start, New Mexico has gone 13-2 down the conference’s final stretch, including an eight-game winning streak. She has given fans a reason to return to WisePies Arena as the squad proceeded to win 12-straight in The Pit.
For the first time since the 2006-07 season, the Lobos will finish among the top three teams in the Mountain West, regardless of what happens in UNM’s final game at Wyoming on Friday. Sanchez has already won more conference games than any of the four head coaches before her, and she has done so without losing integrity and abiding by her moral code.
Sanchez waited 11 years for her shot to grab the reins of the program and her first three seasons didn’t produce the feel-good fairy tale she might have envisioned when first taking over the head coaching spot. However, with her back against the wall, the Albuquerque native and Eldorado High School graduate has now put her name in the record books and has unfolded a story that anyone can admire.
UNM has an entire new season to play once the team enters the Mountain West Tournament, starting next week. Even if UNM cannot claim a conference tournament title for the first time in the Sanchez era, the head coach has earned an extension as leader of the New Mexico Women’s basketball team.
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Liam Cary-Eaves is the assistant sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @Liam_CE.