This article is authored by: Lindsey R. Gilbert, Jr,. President and Head of Menaul School
Header Photo: Charles-Carlos Luis Vigil
For a storied athletic program like Menaul School’s, you would expect that state championships were common, but Menaul’s basketball history has sadly been serving as the best man. That is, until Saturday, March 12, 2022, when Menaul became the groom!
The 5th-ranked Menaul Panthers made an incredible run to win the 2A state Championship in The Pit. An 8 AM game time on a Saturday failing to faze this Menaul School team which practices at 7:00 AM three days a week.
The 60-53 #5 Panthers win over four-in-a-row previous state champ, Pecos High School, came through tough qualifying matches: defeating #12 Dulce 78 to 49 at home, #4 Escalante 61 to 55 at their gym, and #1 Tularosa 61 to 57 in the Rio Rancho Event Center. Menaul School brought the whole school to cheer on their team.
The championship game was full of back and forth for both teams.
Each team struggled to impose their style of play on the other. Pecos pressed all game and sought to push the tempo. Menaul slowed the game down and pounded the ball inside.
Early on Pecos penetrated seeking inside points but was frequently denied by Menaul’s big men – Brandon Oloumou and Max Mkpa’s length and ability to block and change shots. Coach Dan Gayle managed a brilliant game and their defense prevented Pecos from finding any rhythm.
Menaul’s offensive trigger man, Prashant Chouhan, drove and dished to Oloumou and Alex Rael, who scored regularly inside and out.
The game MVP was defensive super star Max Mpka. He added 22points – blocks and rebounds to his shutdown of Peco’s quick guards. “It was a good team defense” explained Gayle. “We alternated between man to man, trapping, and zone to prevent them figuring us out.” Any penetration by the quicker Pecos team was discouraged by Menaul’s big men inside.
When asked about the keys to Menaul Panther success, Gayle explained that this special team was all determined to succeed. “With 70% of the players working to play at the next level, they were willing to sacrifice to learn how to succeed,” said Gayle.
Brandon Oloumou said it was the championship banner on the gym wall that inspired him. “Every time we practiced, I’d look up and say I want to put our year up there.”
The core principle and heart of this team was their commitment to be their “brother’s keeper.”
“In my role of Residential Director, I see how we become like family. I extended that to the team. We are family with different personalities, strengths, weaknesses, cultures, and skills. In a team, we must subjugate individuality to the goal of playing well together. By treating each other like brothers, we support, hold accountable and protect each other on and off the courts. We built thick bonds.”Coach Gayle