Grand Valley High School hoops teams eye return to playoffs
PARACHUTE – Boys sports programs at Grand Valley are in tip-top shape, with playoff appearances across the board the last two school years. That’s why no one in their right mind expects too much of a dip in performance from the defending Class 2A state champion Cardinals boys basketball team. With plenty of playoff-seasoned talent still around despite losing five seniors, Grand Valley will no doubt remain a force in the Class 2A Western Slope League.Senior guard Tyler Jensen and junior Colton Cowan are the biggest reasons the up-tempo Cards will contend with the likes of Meeker and Paonia in an always-tough league. Jensen and Cowan were big-time cogs in last year’s state title run, with Jensen contributing around 13 points an outing. Cowan really turned his game up a notch during the second half of the year and ended the season with a scoring average of five points per game. After those two, varsity experience takes a bit of a hit, but there are a number of players who saw significant time on a junior varsity program that went undefeated last season and that has lost just a handful of games in the past three seasons.”You know, this group, especially the junior and senior class, these kids have been working so hard at being varsity players since the sixth or seventh grade,” Grand Valley head coach Scott Kiburis said. “They’ve worked really hard in AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) and summer camps.”Some of those kids have already made it up to the varsity level and logged limited minutes, while others have not. Either way, they’re part of a program that knows a thing or two about winning basketball games. The Cards have been to the state tournament the past two seasons, leaving the program’s youngsters with plenty to glean about winning.Jon Lantz, who was injured late last year, and Matt Zollars join Jensen and junior varsity call-up Seth Stewart as the team’s seniors. Lantz saw some varsity minutes last year and the 6-foot-4 Zollars brings size to the Cardinals’ frontcourt.Other names to watch include juniors William Waugh, Michael Shepard, Landon Pasket, Cole Kraft, Mike Davini and Dalton Penner and sophomore Tyler Radel.This crop of Cardinals know they have some big shoes to fill with the graduation of starters Sam McKinley, Luke Braby, Danny Manzanares, Richard Gallegos and Mitch Belden, but they don’t seem overly daunted.”There’s pressure on the line,” Zollars said. “We’re defending state champs. We’re used to playing with pressure.”
Added Waugh: “I think we have a chance this year. If we play together, we’ll be tough. I think it helps that pretty much everyone played varsity in football and baseball as well. That time together helps a lot.”Kiburis is confident the 2007-08 Cardinals are up to continuing the school’s rich basketball tradition.”I wouldn’t say that this group wants to be compared to the last group,” he said, “but they do want to show they can be successful on their own.”
After a disappointing end to the 2006-07 season, Grand Valley’s girls basketball team has plenty to prove. After going to the state tournament a season earlier, the Cards bowed out in the district tournament with a 46-40 loss to Hayden.Now it’s their chance to show the early exit was just a fluke.”We’re really excited,” senior Whitney Ashcraft said. “We’re really confident in what we can do this season. We just flow a lot better.”Part of that has to do with a new team general in senior transfer Kendall Babler, whose family moved just far enough west from Rifle to land her at Grand Valley.”She’s the best point guard I’ve ever coached,” Cardinals coach Mike Johnson lauded.At Rifle last year, Babler helped the Bears to the Great Eight of the Class 4A state playoffs. This year, she’ll drop two classes and lead a team that is two seasons removed from a state tourney appearance.With Babler on board and a number of speedy players surrounding her, expect a run-and-gun offense at Grand Valley.”We’re going to push the ball,” Babler said. “We’ll have a lot of offense. We’re very quick. We can outrun a lot of teams.”Fellow seniors Sherry Mlakar, Ashcraft, Lauren Schubert, Emmy Adkins and Lyndsey Tonder will make for a veteran lineup. Ashcraft and Tonder – 5-foot-10 and 5-8, respectively – will provide a presence in the post. Ashcraft is coming off an injury-shortened season, and Schubert was the Cardinals leading scorer last school year, netting eight points per game.Sophomore Erin Vanderpool and juniors Kasi Jensen and Samantha Young should also be given ample opportunity to contribute.”We have a pretty good sophomore/junior group,” Johnson lauded. “We have a lot more depth than we’ve had in quite a while.”The ninth-year coach anticipates a return to prominence for the Grand Valley girls.”Last year we hope was more of a hiccup,” he said. “We had gone five years at regionals before that. The girls feel we should be right back there.”
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