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Basketball teams aim at successful seasons

It should be an interesting season for the Pagosa Springs Pirates boys’ and girls’ basketball teams, with both teams returning from seasons that took them to the state playoffs in Fort Collins.

Although the boys are fielding a young team this year with only one senior on the court (Zach Lucero), six players on this year’s starting squad gained ample floor time and playoff experience during the championship series last spring: Lucero and his brother Kain (a sophomore), along with juniors Zerek Jones, Daniel Puskas and Tyson Ross, and sophomore Clay Ross.

On top of that, the rest of this year’s starters saw significant floor time during the 2009-2010 season, including juniors Ryley Gardner, Gabe Lister and Drew Mackey, and sophomore Dean Hampton. Only sophomores Zachariah Griego and Eli Stephens make their debut with the varsity team this year and both, according to coach Randy Sorenson, show potential.

Not exactly a newcomer himself (having been assistant coach for the past several years), Sorenson steps into the shoes left by ex-head coach Jim Shaffer earlier this year.

“Basically, we’re sticking to what worked last year,” Sorenson said, adding, “We’re trying to build on the team aspect of the game this year.”

If that is true, it represents a departure from Shaffer’s coaching style, a strategy that put offensive focus on a few key players on the inside. However, Sorenson’s team this year lacks the height advantage that, while never exceptional in previous years, nonetheless allowed Shaffer to succeed with a pro-style 2-3 offense.

“We’re trying out some new things this year,” Sorenson said. Sorenson went on to say regarding how the physical makeup of the team will determine ball handling on both sides of the court. “We’re athletic and fast. We’re really emphasizing rebounding. We have to get out there and pressure people.”

Indeed, Tyson Ross and the Lucero brothers proved that height was not necessarily a prerequisite for playing the game. Deadly on defense with a lethal full-court press and uncannily accurate outside the paint, all three players will most likely confound teams in the conference with their speed, ball-stealing abilities and hot hands from the three-point zone.

Where height does matter, the Pirates have Jones and Puskas on the inside to score at the rim or grab the ball off the backboard.

With Jones having gained some height over the summer, Sorenson said his junior shows tremendous promise on the inside, adding, “He dunks the ball with ease — his jumping abilities are amazing.”

Whereas this season should show a fair amount of scoring from the outside by the boys, the girls will have no problem driving into the paint with arguably the best three-strike punch in girl’s 3A basketball — Mary Brinton, Breezy Bryant and Magan Kraetsch.

Having placed third in the state 3A championship series this past March, the Pirates look to return to Fort Collins next spring to win the top spot as state champions.

With a depth that should be the envy of any team, coach Wes Lewis recognizes he has a team that has the potential to go all the way to the finals and the title. Nonetheless, Lewis is approaching the season one day at a time.

“We’re going to stay humble, work hard all year and see where it takes us,” he said.

Despite a stellar inside attack, depth is the key this season. With tremendous strength on the outside (and an extremely greedy defense), the Pirates bring back juniors Brooklynn DuCharme, Destiny Soto, Sienna Stretton and sophomores Sienna Espinosa and Haliegh Zenz back to the court, all of whom not only logged a great deal of court time last season, but most of whom were well into the fray during the championship series last March.

Newcomers to the team include senior Kyrra Condon and junior Elle McGinn. However, three freshman standouts from last year’s unbeaten junior high championship team will likely put the spin on the heads of this year’s opponents: Emily Bryant, Anisa Lucero and Taylor Strohecker.

Nonetheless, it is Brinton and Breezy Bryant who every 3A team in the state will have their sights on. With Brinton (named all-tournament player in last season’s championship series) and Bryant (who blew out the doors in Fort Collins) unstoppable on the inside and the outside — a difficult prospect for any opponent trying to double- or triple-team either, especially with the depth that this year’s squad is showing.

“They’re focused on the task on hand,” Lewis said.

“It’s a really great group of girls,” said Lewis. “I’m really proud to be their coach.”

The Pirates face their first test tomorrow afternoon during the annual Buena Vista tournament with both the boys and girls meeting the Gunnison Cowboys, a team the Pirates have not played for several years.

“Gunnison has a lot of fight and they’re well coached,” said Lewis. “It will be a good test for us.”

The girls play at 4 p.m. followed by the boys at 5:30 p.m. At 7 p.m., the Buena Vista Demons girl’s squad is matched against the Woodland Park Panthers, with the boys playing at 8:30 p.m.

On Saturday, the girls’ consolation match begins at 2:30 p.m., with the boys playing at 4 p.m.. The girls’ title game begins at 5:30 p.m. followed by the boys at 7 p.m.

On Friday, Dec. 10 the Pirates return home to host the annual Wolf Creek Classic with the Gunnison Cowboys facing the Montezuma-Cortez Panthers during the first set on Friday afternoon and the Pirates playing the Dolores Bears that evening. Times for the Friday matches and the consolation and title games on Saturday, Dec. 11 will be posted in next week’s edition of The SUN.

jim@pagosasun.com