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IML coaches look at upcoming basketball season

Preparing for this year’s basketball season, coaches throughout the Intermountain League concur that the Pagosa Springs boys and girls varsity squads will set the bar rather high for the conference.

Bill Hesford, boys coach for the Bayfield Wolverines said, “Pagosa is a powerhouse, of course. They’re the team to beat this year, they bring back a strong lineup.”

As the Wolverines’ new head coach, Hesford has the advantage of fielding a seasoned squad, with six seniors (five returning from last year) and a talented and towering 6-7 sophomore, Derek Hillyer, at center.

However, Hesford recognized some challenges for this year. In fact, the Wolverines were smacked hard during their season opener Tuesday night, losing 73-42 to Piedra Vista.

Stephanie Dennison, coach for the Wolverine girls, likewise acknowledges some challenges for the upcoming season (also losing to Piedra Vista for the season opener). “We’re small, we’re young,” she said, pointing out that the squad only has one returning varsity player this year.

Dennison also said that Pagosa would be a tough competitor this year. “You’ve got those two juniors towering over us,” referring to Pirate standouts Mary Brinton and Breezy Bryant. However, Dennison added, “I think it’s going to be pretty much anybody’s year. Centauri has a strong player returning this year and Dave (Forrester) has been there a long time and has a good program over there.”

Forrester could not be reached for comment as of press time. Yet, despite Dennison’s glowing assessment of the Falcon girls, Pagosa took them easily last year 49-16 victory.

The Falcon boys will be led by a new coach this year, Josh Cantu, and while the Falcons have traditionally run a unique offense in past years, it is not known how the team will fare under Cantu’s leadership (Cantu was also unavailable for comment).

While Monte Vista coaches expressed some confidence regarding their team’s chances this year, both stated their concerns regarding two tough Pagosa squads.

“I think Pagosa will be really tough this year,” said Monte Vista girls coach James Canady.

Nonetheless, Canady will be fielding a seasoned and talented team this season with six seniors on the squad, led by senior guard Mandy Aguilar (starting for her fourth straight year). With some experienced players taking the court this year, Canady still stated some reservations, saying, “I thought we lost three good seniors last year.” Responding to that loss, Canady said, “We’ve switched up our offense and defense.”

Monte Vista boys coach Ty McConnell spoke highly of the Pirates, saying, “Pagosa has a lot of talent; they’re the team to beat this year.”

With one returning senior out for the year following shoulder surgery, McConnell’s boys will be a little shy on experience. Fielding just three seniors this season, McConnell still expressed confidence in his team’s chances, especially with the talent of his two 6-5 players, senior Ryan Milne and junior Christian Malouff.

“We won’t be doing anything different this year,” McConnell said. “We’re keeping it simple.”

There’s nothing simple about looking ahead at IML competition, however, and while both Pagosa teams look strong this year, it’s anyone’s guess who will be conference champion at the end of the season.

Only one thing is for sure, summed up by Dennison: “It’s going to be a fun season.”

jim@pagosasun.com