It’s go time: Area high school hoops teams ready to mask up, play ball
Games begin Tuesday
At long last, high school basketball teams return to the court this week as part of Colorado’s revamped winter sports lineup, which has been delayed since November due to the coronavirus.
Playing under strict protocols including a requirement to wear masks while playing and on the sideline, and with no fans allowed in the stands for most schools, Garfield County teams enter the 2021 campaign with one objective — let’s just play!
Action begins Tuesday when the Glenwood Springs High School Demons boys and girls host the Basalt Longhorns. Games will be broadcast live on KMTS radio.
Here’s a look at what area teams are working with this season.
GLENWOOD SPRINGS BOYS
The Demons might have an “X” marked on their backs this season after a fourth consecutive 4A Western Slope League title and undefeated conference season last year.
Ending the season in the Great 8 of the state tournament at 22-4, the Demons graduated four all-conference players and seven seniors altogether.
“People are going to be shooting for us,” third-year head coach Fred Heisel said. “They’re going to be thinking that, (they’re) young now and now’s our time to get em … we’re going to have a target on our back all year.”
The Demons, however, still return some good experience. Heisel will have at his disposal the likes of juniors Blake Nieslanik, Aiden Nieslanik and Reid Swanson.
“We’re shorter this year, as well as younger,” Heisel said.
Heisel anticipates Steamboat Springs, Battle Mountain, Eagle Valley and Summit to be tough tests for Glenwood in the league this season.
Heisel will look to his team to overcome their youth as the season progresses.
“We’re building toward the end,” he said. “The championship is at the end of the year. We just have to be ready for that one.”
Glenwood plays Basalt 6:15 p.m. Tuesday, and travels to Coal Ridge on Friday.
GLENWOOD SPRINGS GIRLS
Also coming off a league championship, an undefeated conference season and an overall 21-4 record, the Glenwood Lady Demons graduated six seniors.
But a returning core of five players who saw ample varsity game time last season should make for a solid title defense.
Topping the roster are seniors Graci Dietrich and Maddie Moser, along with juniors Ella Johnson and Kenzie Winder and sophomore Joslyn Spires.
“Our kids are just excited to get to play, finally,” head coach Rhonda Moser said. “We never guessed when we went to the Sweet 16 last season that we wouldn’t be able to set foot back in the gym for 10 months.”
A deep bench and an ability to spread the ball around will again define the Lady Demons attack, Moser said.
“That’s the type of program I like to run,” she said. “We’re not super tall, but I think we’ll be pretty quick.”
Teams to beat in the league include Palisade and Steamboat Springs.
Following the home opener at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday versus Basalt, the Demons travel the short distance to play Coal Ridge on Friday.
Coming off a 10-14 season last year, Rifle boys basketball looks to lean on a bench full of juniors and sophomores this season.
Head coach Kyle Daniell said his team this year may not be the oldest, but they definitely have some good experience returning to the court.
Among the 30 players who came out for high school basketball this season, Daniell will look to some of his key players for leadership and production, including Tido Ruiz, Danny Carreon and Kade Bisop.
“We are extremely excited for the season,” Daniell said. “We feel very fortnaturte to get the season rolling. We got games on the horizon, (and) we feel really blessed to play this season because it could be a lot worse.”
Daniell said Rifle right now looks like they have all the pieces to make a successful season.
“Handling the challenge is right now day to day,” he said. “Just like life, we have challenges all the time. There’s a lot of good lessons we can learn.”
Among the Western Slope teams, Daniell said Steamboat Springs, Glenwood Springs and Eagle Valley will likely make formidable opponents this season.“One thing I do know,” Daniell said, “our league is strong.”
The first game of the season for Rifle boys is slated for 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Grand Valley High School.
Rifle girls basketball coach Eric Caro may have lost five key seniors to graduation, but that’s no reason to count the Bears out.
“I think people are writing us off because we lost five seniors, but we’ve had a lot of girls be really hungry this off season,” Caro said.
The Bears finished 10-15 overall last season, but a strong finish propelled Rifle into the state playoffs.
though the Bears are still young this season, Caro said his players are ready to play and work hard. In addition, he’s confident they can safely navigate their way through COVID-19.
“I think our parents have all been pretty responsible with how they’ve managed themselves and trying to do what’s best for the kids,” he said.
“We just want to compete and steal some wins,” he added.
Opponents to watch out for in 4A ball this season include Glenwood Springs, Steamboat Springs and Palisade.
Rifle’s tipoff to the season starts with an away game against Grand Valley High School, 6 p.m. Thursday.
“Oh man, we’re pumped,” Caro said. “Thursday night cannot come soon enough.”
ROARING FORK BOYS
A rough start and a tough nonconference schedule for the Roaring Fork boys last season made for a bumpy road, but the Rams return locked and loaded for the 2021 campaign.
Roaring Fork finished 6-16 overall last year, but a respectable finish and a 4-5 3A Western Slope League mark was encouraging, second-year coach Tony Gross said.
Now, after the delayed start to the season, the Rams are ready to butt heads for a shot at the league title.
Last year’s leading scorer, Graham Pietch, returns for his senior year, and the Rams will have some size inside with 6-3 senior Tristan Maker and fellow senior, 6-1 Julian Alcantara.
“I think we’ll be pretty strong with seven seniors on the team, and all of them having varsity experience,” Gross said.
Another strength should be a deep bench, with ability to rotate in as many as 10 or 11 players, he said.
“We’ve been going at it pretty hard, but the kids are tired of practicing and just want to start playing,” Gross said.
The league should be strong as usual, with as many as five or six teams likely vying for the top spot come playoff time.
The Rams open at home Thursday against Olathe. Game time is 7 p.m.
ROARING FORK GIRLS
Led by All-Conference player and Coe College signee senior Maya Lindgren, the Roaring Fork girls will be looking to improve on a strong 2019-20 season to make a run for the league title.
“We should be tough again, with several returning players and some young players who are looking really good,” second-year coach Juan Quintero said.
The Rams finished 13-10 overall and 6-3 in the league last year, and have several players who saw a lot of playing time last year on the court again. Among them are seniors Lily Nieslanik and Laiken Groom, and juniors Genesis Quintero and Sienna Pargiter-Walker. Soccer crossover player Macey Peery also rejoins the Rams’ basketball squad for her junior year after taking a year off.
“They played a lot of minutes last year for varsity,” Coach Quintero said. “We lost three senior starters, but we’re still a pretty experienced team.”
The girls open their 2021 campaign in the early game Thursday versus Olathe, at 5:30 p.m.
COAL RIDGE BOYS
Coming off a 14-7 overall season and 7-2 run in the 3A Western Slope League that included a bitter loss to Gunnison for the league title, Coal Ridge looks to a seasoned group of returning players to renew the effort.
The Titans graduated their hot hand from the outside, Austin Gerber, but look to this year’s seniors Moses Contreras, Hank DiMarco, Karsen Dubois, Andrew Herrera and Irvin Ortega to fill the gap.
“We’re very excited to finally get to play, and I think everyone is a little on edge until it actually happens,” veteran Coal Ridge coach Paul Harvey said. “It’s the longest offseason we’ve ever had, so it’s definitely been outside the normal.”
But a lack of practice time and the COVID-19 protocols will be something all of the teams the Titans face will be contending with, he noted.
“Every game counts a little more this season,” Harvey said. “And the mask thin, our guys have been wearing them and aren’t complaining. We look at this whole thing as a sign of strength. I hope it makes us all stronger.”
Coal Ridge opens its season Wednesday on the road at Steamboat Springs, and returns for the home opener against Glenwood Springs on Friday.
Coals Ridge games can be viewed via live webstream at NFHS network.
COAL RIDGE GIRLS
With a good number of top scorers returning to Coal Ridge basketball this season, head coach Clyde Morgan said he’s excited to get back to action.
“I think everybody’s just ready to get out and do something,” he said. “It’s been a while since a lot of the kids have played any type of sports.”
Coal Ridge, which went 11-10 last season (5-4 league), will likely lean on the likes of senior Taylor Weiscamp, Kallie Bumgardner, Rae Nelson and Mikayla Cheney, as well as Jackie Camunez, a sophomore who’ll score some big points for the Titans.
A notable loss to graduation, however, includes Lyanna Nevarez.
“Losing her is going to hurt a little bit but we have some girls that can step up into that position,” Morgan said. ”(We’re) really going to try to get the ball up and down the floor and see what happens.”
Morgan said Moffat County, Delta, Grand Valley, Roaring Fork and Basalt will all be formidable opponents to watch out for in class 3A.
“It’s always a battle every night whenever we play,” he said.
Coal Ridge starts the season with a home game against Glenwood Springs 5:30 p.m. Friday.
GRAND VALLEY BOYS
Grand Valley boys basketball went 12-8 last season, and head coach Jeremy Tanner is optimistic his team can build off that this year — especially knowing opposing teams will have their own hurdles to overcome,
“I think depth is going to be a big issue for teams this year,” he said. “Besides being there’s short time to prepare and get conditioned as a lot of coaches would want, on top of that having to wear masks and stuff … I really think that’s going to play into the cards this season.”
Returning this season for the Cardinals include go-to players Emilio and Enrique Garcia. They look to make up for the losses of now former Cards Louis Magallanes and Alex Cornejo.
“I’m excited to see what they’ll do,” Tanner said of the Garcias.
Tanner also said this year the Cardinals are set to play 14 games in five weeks, referring to it as “fast and furious.”
“It’s going to be a marathon,” he said.
Tanner anticipates Gunnison, Moffat County and Coal Ridge to be strong opponents for Grand Valley this year.
Grand Valley hosts Rifle High School at 7 p.m. Thursday.
GRAND VALLEY GIRLS
Grand Valley girls basketball ended last season with a notable 16-7 record.
That was with the help of Kirstin Medina, Loghan Teeter, Jordyn Pittman and Taygann Schoeppner — all since graduated.
Still, Cardinals head coach Scott Parker said his young team still has something to bring to the table.
“We’ll have quite a few younger players on the floor, but we’ve got some good skill, so I’m excited about that,” he said. “We’ve got some pretty athletic kids and we’re going to try and take advantage of that.”
Beyond everything else, the Cardinals are excited to get back to the court.
“The girls haven’t been able to play sports all school year, so we’re definitely looking forward to it,” he said.
Under the unique circumstances of COVID-19, Parker acknowledged that his team will have to overcome challenges — but so will everyone else.
“Most definitely, but everyone in the state plays in the same challenges,” he said. “I think the team that doesn’t let the challenges get in the way, I think will be better for it.”
Parker anticipates Delta, Roaring Fork and Moffat County to have good teams this year.
“I’m excited to coach these girls and see where we can go,” he said.
Grand Valley hosts its first game of the season against Rifle High School 6 p.m. Thursday.
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