Roaring Fork seniors embrace leadership roles
CARBONDALE – The Roaring Fork boys basketball team has found unprecedented success in different ways over the last three seasons.The Rams have compiled a highly impressive 63-8 overall record since Roger Walters took the coaching helm at the beginning of the 2003-04 season, taking the team to two consecutive Final Four appearances in the Class 3A State Basketball Championships, including a runner-up showing last year.Recent Roaring Fork starting lineups have typically featured a mix of talented underclassmen, bolstered by two or three seniors.Last year, it was senior All-Staters Aaron Markham and Nic Lough who filled the leadership roles, and before that it was Dan Markoya, Jake Boyle and Tommy Joiner.But this year’s version of the Rams is the most senior-laden team overall during that entire stretch.Roaring Fork co-captains Christian Tena and Parker Nieslanik, along with fellow senior starters Derek Parker and A.J. Joiner (Tommy’s younger brother) have led the Rams to a third-straight 3A Western Slope League regular-season title and another undefeated league season headed into their first game of the District Tournament on Friday.
The team is in the driver’s seat to host a third consecutive Regional Tournament. And if they can clear these last few hurdles, there’s no reason to think this year’s Rams couldn’t make yet another serious run for a state title.”Experience will make us strong going into the playoffs,” Nieslanik said. “Third at state two years ago, second last year (with three of this year’s seniors as starters) … There’s not too many other 3A teams that can say that.””We played some pretty tough teams at the beginning of the season,” Joiner said, referring to an early season slate of Class 4A teams before the Rams opened the 3A WSL campaign. “So, we know we can play with the best of them.”For Tena, a three-year starter for the Rams who has served as the defensive stalwart for the past two seasons, stepping up into that senior leader role has meant refining his offensive game as well.”For the last two years, I knew my role was mostly on the defensive side,” he said. “But coach Walters really worked with me on my shooting and offensive skills, and it’s paid off.”Tena is averaging 16.7 points and 5.4 assists per game, and recently recorded a rare quadruple-double in a Jan. 28 win over rival Basalt, putting up double figures in four different stat categories – points scored, rebounds, assists and steals.”Our game is still built around defense,” Tena said. “That’s what gets the job done.”And Tena remains among the best defensive players in the state, averaging 4.7 steals and 11.4 rebounds per game, ranking him first and second in the state, respectively, in those two categories. “(Former coaches) Mike Fahrenkrug and Marty Nieslanik did a good job of building this program up, and coach Walters came in, tuned it up and took it to the next level,” Tena said.
That was one of the main reasons Derek Parker decided to transfer from Glenwood Springs High School in 2004 to Roaring Fork where his dad, Dale Parker, is principal.”Having four seniors in the starting lineup really helps out,” Parker said. “These guys are all pretty close and have known each other for a long time. That really helps our team chemistry.”And, that leadership is something that’s again had a positive influence on yet another crop of talented underclassmen, including juniors Kyle Raaflaub, Kade Gianinetti and twin brothers Tyler and Trevor Hunt, along with 6-foot-6 sophomore Torrey Udall. “At the beginning of the season, it was kind of just us three starters from last year out there,” Nieslanik said. “I think we’ve really come together as a team, and we’re gelling at the right time.”Walters is also pleased with how this year’s Rams team has progressed and thinks it may be the best overall defensive team he’s had in his three years at Roaring Fork.”This group of seniors has played in two state tournaments now, and they really bring good maturity and a good work ethic to the program,” he said. “And they’ve really allowed the younger kids to become more comfortable in their roles.”
(Top four teams advance to regional playoffs)Friday at Palisade High SchoolSemifinalsBoys: No. 2 Basalt vs. No. 3 Gunnison, 5 p.m.; No. 1 Roaring Fork vs. No. 4 Aspen, 8 p.m.Girls: No. 2 Roaring Fork vs. No. 3 Cedaredge, 3:30 p.m.; No. 1 Basalt vs. No. 4 Hotchkiss, 6:30 p.m.Saturday at Palisade High School Third Place Games Girls Semifinal losers, 1 p.m.; Boys Semifinal losers, 2:30 p.m.; Championship GamesGirls Semifinal winners, 4 p.m.; Boys Semifinal winners, 5:30 p.m.
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The Coal Ridge High boys suffered their first 3A Western Slope League loss of the year Thursday night on the road at Gunnison, falling to the defending league champion Cowboys 65-45.