Southwest Colorado basketball fans will find some intriguing new matchups lining the league schedule this year for basketball teams.
With the creation of a 6A classification, CHSAA readjusted all the classifications based on enrollment. Although the realignment leaves Montezuma-Cortez in 3A, Mancos and Dolores in 2A, and Dove Creek in 1A, the Intermountain League and San Juan Basin League will have significant changes to their respective landscapes.
Most notably, perennial 2A power Ignacio bumps up to 3A, which means the Bobcats will join the 4A/3A Intermountain League to play against M-CHS, along with Bayfield (3A), Centauri (3A), Pagosa Springs and Alamosa (who both moved to 4A).
Ignacio’s departure from the SJBL creates an intriguing new league dynamic, even as the rest of the participants remained in their previous classification. The Southwest Classic – a tournament usually played in the first weekend back from winter break, showcasing the M-CHS, Ignacio, Bayfield, and Durango boys programs – will fall by the wayside, as the Panthers, Bobcats, and Wolverines will each see each other twice during league play.
All the changes aside, the area teams look to launch into another year of exciting hoops action with ambitions of league title and postseason pursuits this winter.
A year after battling hard as an undersized squad in the rigorous IML, head coach Mike Hall brings a team with plenty of experience to the floor for his ninth year at the helm. The Panthers posted a 5-14 record from a season ago, and hope that a strong senior class can snap a three-year drought from 3A regional tournament play.
Seniors Austin Wood, Isaak Lewis, and Gabriel Crowley lead that group – as all three played big-time minutes for Hall’s crew in both their sophomore and junior seasons. Junior Miles Frost looks to continue to establish himself as an interior presence for M-CHS, while senior Elijah Lee steps into a sharpshooting role. M-CHS relied heavily on their three-point shooting to mix in with attacking the rim, and they will look to build off their aggressive defensive play to get out in transition.
Montezuma-Cortez opened the Panther Invitational Tournament on Thursday with an 84-66 win over Aztec, and plays Newcomb at 7 p.m. Friday and Grand County at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.
Another home date on Dec. 6 against Monticello awaits the Panthers, before a trip to Grand Junction for a tournament wraps up the 2022 portion of the schedule. Then, when 2023 kicks off, so too will league play, as the Panthers face Bayfield and Alamosa on Jan. 13-14. A Valentine’s Day meeting with Mancos will get the Panthers ready for the final week of the regular season, with their sights set on a district and regional tournament run.
After their first season with double-digit wins in over a decade, fourth-year head coach Brad Wright looks to continue the strong build for his M-CHS girls program. A number of graduations from last year’s varsity roster means that the Panthers will see plenty of players taking on heightened roles in Wright’s offense.
Junior Savannah Haselroth, one of the team’s top scorers from a year ago, returns to help operate the Panther backcourt, while classmate Markylla Jones and senior Amiyah Ogo look to solidify the M-CHS post play.
A large sophomore and junior class look to fill in the vacancies from last year’s seniors, as the Panthers kick off the 2022-23 campaign with a trip to Shiprock over the span of Dec. 1-3. The Panthers will take on Monument Valley, Utah, to open the tournament, and will learn their remaining opponents depending on their results.
M-CHS will travel to New Mexico again on Dec. 13 to face Kirtland Central, before the holiday break will see the Panthers return to league play on Jan. 13 against Bayfield. From there, the Panthers also have meetings with local teams Dove Creek (Feb. 8) and Mancos (Feb. 14) on the schedule before the regular season finale against Ignacio on Feb. 16.
The Bears basketball program found some traction under head coach Joel Balderrama last year in his debut season at the helm. A senior-heavy squad posted an 8-10 mark while DHS made steady improvement from beginning to end of the season.
After graduation hit the Bears this past spring, a new core group will look to step in and take the Dolores back into postseason contention in the SJBL. Juniors Jonathan Purkat and Mark Palate look to provide experience in the backcourt for a group that will see much of the lineup making their first big emergence on the varsity stage.
The Bears will open their campaign in the San Luis Valley at the Sangre de Cristo Thunderbird Invitational, followed by a trip to Rangely for a second tournament the following weekend. Their home slate kicks off on Dec. 13 when Monticello, Utah, pays a visit.
A month later, the Bears will open up San Juan Basin League play with a trip to Telluride, while their rivalry with Mancos gets renewed on Jan. 24 at DHS. The two schools will meet again on the final day of the regular season (Feb. 17) before district play kicks off.
DHS girls basketball will likewise see the growth of a young core of talent, as senior Chandler Smith is the team’s top returning scorer, along with junior Ashlynn Mikkelson. Head coach Tiffany Hill’s group picked up a 3-14 record last year, and looks to see their offense make strides this campaign.
Their schedule mirrors the boys route for the most part, with the girls joining the Dove Creek Bulldog Classic on Dec. 16-17. The home portion of the SJBL slate kicks off for the Bears on Jan. 14 from the DHS Fieldhouse.
Running on a streak of five consecutive winning season, the Mancos boys basketball team will begin an era without a Showalter in the lineup. Seven seniors departed this past spring, but the Jays do return a trio of juniors looking to lead the next wave of Bluejays back into contention atop the SJBL.
Top returning scorer Kail Wayman joins Chris Medina and Brian Veach for an offense capable of putting up points in a hurry. A number of underclassmen will look to step into the shoes of the class of ’22, hoping that the Bluejays can once again return to the 2A regional tournament, where they have made an appearance each of these past five years.
The Jays open the season in Gallup over the weekend of Dec. 1-3, before making a trip to Meeker the following weekend for the Cowboy Invite. A nonleague meeting with Ignacio at MHS on Dec. 15 leads Mancos into the holidays, before returning to action on Jan. 7 in Creede. A nonconference meeting against preseason No. 1 Sanford on Jan. 13 leads Mancos into league play, which begins the following day against Ouray.
On the girls side, the Jays have put together back-to-back winning seasons under fifth-year head coach Kerri Morgan, including a 14-8 mark from 2021-22. Four starters graduated from that team, however, meaning that Mancos will look for a number of underclassmen to shoulder the burden.
Mancos returns their dynamic junior guard Quincy Montoya, one of their leading scorers from last year’s group. An athletic young roster with carry-over from their excellent volleyball campaign provides the Jays with plenty of optimism heading into their season opening tournament in Meeker from Dec. 1-3.
Morgan’s team then heads to Center for a tournament the following weekend, before a meeting with the Bobcats wraps up 2022. A meeting with Dove Creek on Jan. 17 headlines the conference schedule, with district play coming after the Jays host Dolores in their final regular season home contest.
It’s hard to imagine a better year for Dove Creek athletics, with a state title for football, along with state tournament appearances for volleyball as well as boys and girls basketball. The Bulldog hoops programs hope that their strong run spills over into 2023 as their teams prepare to vie for an encore.
The boys program made its big breakthrough with a regional title, upending the defending state champions Belleview Christian to make their first state appearance.
Behind senior scoring threat Kade Hankins, the Bulldogs now enter SJBL and district play as a team to watch, as a strong supporting cast looks to alleviate some of the scoring burden from Hankins.
On the girls side, a state quarterfinal appearance for the Bulldogs came after another impressive regular season which including a league championship. The ‘Dogs will look to defend their SJBL dominance with a roster full of returning talent. Seniors Lexi Gray, Trista Barnett, and Rylee Hickman look to set the tone for a dynamic offense that pairs well with a smothering defense.
The Bulldogs look for early-season tests when they travel to Centauri for a season-opening tournament Dec. 1-3, before hosting their annual preholiday Bulldog Classic. League play kicks off on Jan. 7 in Telluride, with a trip to Bayfield on Feb. 1 headlining the nonleague schedule. District play kicks off after their regular season caps on Feb. 17 on the road against Nucla.