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San Juan Basin girls basketball preview: Dove Creek hopes for encore

Dove Creek’s Kalie Gatlin tries for a steal against Cheyenne Wells' Kassadee Dickey during consolation-bracket semifinal action in 2022 in Greeley. Joel Priest/Special to The Journal
Bulldogs will face challenges from rising Bluejays and Bears

After the program’s best ever finish in the 1A state tournament, capping a San Juan Basin League title, district championship, and new high-water mark with 23 wins, it’s hard to imagine what Dove Creek might have in store this year to raise the bar again.

The 2023-24 Bulldogs enter the season with plenty of firepower from last year’s squad, and will begin their quest to make it four straight SJBL titles. Meanwhile, Mancos continues their climb having steadily improved their win total in each of the past five seasons, picking up 15 victories a year ago.

Likewise, Dolores brings back almost their entire roster from last winter’s group, seeking to improve on a four-win season.

Gatlins, Hickman look to lead Dove Creek

Seventh-year head coach Julie Kibel has provided plenty of platitudes for the Bulldog girls who have been part of the ongoing success of the program, including the team’s third-place finish in last winter’s 1A state tournament.

Kibel will get one more year to coach two of the most impactful players in school history this winter, as seniors Kalie and Kylie Gatlin cap off their sensational careers for the blue-and-yellow. Blending well into a balanced offense last season, Kalie led the team in assists, while Kylie finished as one of the team’s three double-figure scorers and top rebounders.

The duo joins junior Ralynn Hickman, who comes off an all-state volleyball season and will move up from reserve to starter for the Bulldogs this season.

Senior Halee Beanland and a bevy of underclassmen will look to fill the shoes of the starters lost to graduation, as the Bulldogs look to continue their up-tempo style of play to disrupt opposition.

The Bulldogs (23-3 last year) kick off the campaign with a trip to the San Luis Valley for the Mountain Top Tournament in La Jara from Nov. 30-Dec. 2, followed by a visit to Rangely’s Winter Classic on Dec. 8-9. Dove Creek hosts their annual Bulldog Classic on Dec. 15-16, which will give the local fans their first chance to see the ‘Dogs on their home floor.

Quincy Montoya of Mancos drives to the basket Thursday against Montezuma-Cortez in 2022. Ben Bradley/Special to The Journal
Bluejays continue push toward top of 2A

It’s been no coincidence that the Mancos volleyball and basketball programs have risen during the same span. The two teams have enjoyed a wealth of talented classes filtering through the hallways at MHS, and so the Jays have enjoyed new heights for their girls athletic programs.

Sixth-year head coach Kerri Morgan continues to push her squad to the next level, as Mancos returns their entire roster from a year ago. Sophomore Claire Goodwin led the way in scoring for the Jays last winter, and looks to join seniors Quincy Montoya and Teya Yeomans to provide a balanced attack.

Seniors Sam Simmons, Mandi Peacock, and Chloe Endres look to add into the fray, while providing stout defense for the Jays. Classmate Haylie Higgins will join the squad after her volleyball success, while sophomore Destiny Kramer, along with juniors Randi Lewis and Jenna Wilson provide depth that will make Mancos one of the toughest teams in the 2A classification.

The Bluejays, who finished 15-7 in 2022-23 and qualified for the state tournament field, kick-start their 2023-24 season in Meeker over the Nov. 30-Dec. 2 weekend, followed by a trip to Fairplay for a tournament hosted by South Park. Trips to Ignacio (Dec. 14) and Del Norte (Dec. 16) will send the Bluejays into the holiday break.

Janae Boyd of Dolores tries stealing the ball from Ridgway's Sophia Forrest during the RHS-hosted Class 2A-District 3 Tournament's semifinal stage on Feb. 24. (Joel Priest/Special to The Journal)
Senior-led Bears hope for a breakthrough season

Nothing would be sweeter for the Bears than a big send-off for a senior class that has weathered the ups and downs of the past few seasons.

Class of 2024 leaders Ashlyn Mikkelson, Janae Boyd, Mikayla Puett, and Kylee Burt look to make their final impressions on the floor at DHS under eighth-year head coach Tiffany Hill.

Along with their senior class, the Bears turn to a wave of underclassmen, who hope to build confidence in the early stretch of the season to get prepared for the rigors of SJBL when league play begins in January

Dolores (4-16 last year) opens their ledger in Mosca as part of the Sangre de Cristo Shootout on Nov. 30-Dec. 2, before a Dec. 5 visit to Bayfield. The Bears will also travel to Rangely (Dec. 8-9) before a trip to Monticello (Dec. 12) and action in the Dove Creek Bulldog Classic (Dec. 15-16) wraps up a busy month of action.

The rest of the San Juan Basin League will look to topple the top dogs this winter, as Nucla (11-10 last year) lost several of their leading scorers to graduation, while Ridgway (6-13) and Telluride (0-20) will try to test the Bulldogs, Bluejays, and Bears this season.