Steamboat Springs Predicted order of finish:
1. Steamboat Springs
COACH: Kelly Meek, 26th year
1999: 6-2 and 13-7
STRENGTHS: Steamboat has size this year. The Sailors return all-conference honorable mention players Rusty Eck and Danny Weber to their 1999 conference championship team. Eck, a 6-foot-6-inch post player, averaged 7.5 rebounds per game last season. Weber, at 6 feet 5 inches tall, was the team's third leading rebounder. The senior twin towers will be joined by junior Alex Mackey, a 6-foot-5-inch post player, and Ryan Scheer who also brings inside game at 6 feet 3 inches tall. Scheer and Mackey played on the junior varsity squad last season.
WEAKNESSES: The Sailors tripped over mental lapses and faltered in the district tournament last year. They will have to rise to the occasion this year when the playoffs near.
KEY PLAYERS LOST: The Sailors lost their player of the year in David Marsh. The all-state point guard averaged 16 points and five assists per game last season.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Eck and Weber will be forces inside and senior forward Andrew Johnston is another valuable player. He made first-team all-conference last season and led the team in rebounds. Johnston also was second on the team in blocked shots, scoring average and field-goal percentage. Senior point guard Ryan Kiely was honorable-mention all-conference in 1999. Meek describes Kiely as a "great hustler." He averaged 3.5 assists in 1999 and two steals per game. Both Johnston and Kiely can knock down the threes.
OUTLOOK: After sharing the conference title with the Delta Panthers last season, No.2-seeded Steamboat had a disappointing outing in the district tournament. The Sailors fell to the Rifle Bears in the first round, 50-43. Four starters return from last year's team though, including Johnston, Eck, Kiely and Weber. Meek, who is 413-154 so far in his career, will have a stronger team in 2000. Their experience and size should guide them to a district championship.
COACH: Roger Walters, 6th year
1999: 3-5 and 14-7
STRENGTHS: The Bears have five starters returning from their 1999 season, including all-conference player and honorable-mention all-state selection Brian Beecraft. Three of the Bears' starters are seniors, which Walters says will provide his team with great leadership.
WEAKNESSES: Height is an issue. The team's tallest starter is 6-foot-2 inch Steven Winschell, a junior center who weighs 250 pounds. Rifle's point guard is the team's second tallest starter at 6-foot-1.
KEY PLAYERS LOST: None.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Beecraft. He averaged 21.7 points per game last season and led the 4A classification in scoring. Beecraft is an intelligent player who works hard, his coach says. He has a 3.7 grade point average and has been a major contributor to the basketball team since his sophomore season. "He really blossomed as a junior," Walters said. "He was just incredible last year." Beecraft scored 22 points against the Sailors last year in the district tournament.
OUTLOOK: Last year, Rifle was upset by the Moffat County Bulldogs in the district championship. The Bulldogs, who were 11-12 overall, finished fourth in the conference. This year, the Bears are more experienced. Rifle returns honorable mention all-conference players Charlie Terrell, Tommy George and Andy Gardineer. "We're small but we're pretty quick," Walters said. "And we shoot the ball a lot better than we did last year. But, we have our work cut out for us. I think our size is going to hurt us, especially against teams like Steamboat who are going to be so big with rebounding."
3. Moffat County COACH: Blaine Corlett, 3rd year
1999: 3-5 and 11-12
STRENGTHS: The Bulldogs won back-to-back district championships in 1998 and 1999. They continue to prove they are a top contender that elevates its game tremendously during the postseason. The team enjoys more depth this year and will be quicker than last season, Corlett said.
WEAKNESSES: Like Rifle, Moffat County is small inside. Kevin
Voorhees is the tallest projected starter at 6-foot-3.
KEY PLAYERS LOST: Guard Adam Peer, who averaged 12 points per game last season. Justin Magnuson also will be missed. Magnuson, who was a post player, averaged 10 points per game for Moffat County.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Voorhees is a senior forward. He and Jeff Gaylord each averaged about 10 points per game last season. Gaylord, a senior post player, is 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighs 175. Voorhees and Gaylord led the Bulldogs in rebounding last year. Steamboat coach Kelly Meek described Voorhees as "a really fine jumper."
OUTLOOK: Voorhees and Gaylord were both starters last season. Senior Mark Turner, a 6-foot-2, 180-pound post player, also saw a lot of minutes in 1999 and will help the Bulldogs as they prepare for another run at a district championship. Senior C.J. Rugh, a 6-foot-1, 165-pound guard is the team's best three-point shooter. He is expected to be out until late December with a knee injury, but could be the spark to another late-season run. The Bulldogs will give the Sailors and the Bears a run for their money.
4. Glenwood Springs
COACH: Roger Duroux, 1st year
1999: 2-6 and 6-13
STRENGTHS: The Demons are a quicker team than last year. They lack some size but the post players are capable of running the court well.
WEAKNESSES: Glenwood lost 13 games last year and lost two starters. It won't be easy replacing guard Ryan Neil who led the team in steals. Neil was one of the tops in the state in that category.
KEY PLAYERS LOST: Neil also was the team's leading scorer last year. Tyrel Cooper, a post player, will be missed as a solid, all-around hoopster.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Jacob Benson, a power forward, averaged nearly 10 points per game last season. Guard Thomas Ahrens netted 12 points per game in 1999. Guard Andy Hansen led the team in assists last year. Senior Rob Cable did not start last season but was the team's leading rebounder. Mark Schenk, who did not play in 1999, will be a presence this year at 6 feet 7 inches, 270 pounds.
OUTLOOK: According to Palisade coach Mike Krueger, Glenwood could be a surprise contender this season. "They've got basketball players coming out their ears all of a sudden," Krueger said. Benson, Ahrens and Hansen all started last season and will bring valuable leadership to this talented ball club. Schenk will be a monster on the court and small forward Chris Hoffmeister poses a scoring threat. "I think everybody in the league is going to be real strong this year," Duroux said. "I think the team that gets it together the quickest is probably going to win this league."
COACH: Kurt Clay, 3rd year
1999: 6-2 and 15-4
STRENGTHS: Clay says his team is a "hard-working" group that should be more balanced than last season.
WEAKNESSES: The Panthers shared the conference championship with the Sailors in 1999, but significant graduation losses will be costly. Four starters are gone this season. Of the three seniors on the varsity squad, two are nursing injuries from football season.
KEY PLAYERS LOST: Guard Nick Garver averaged 17 points per game last year for the Panthers. Guard Eric Thompson averaged 13 points per game and forward Zach Lemon scored 10 points per game. Daniel Renfrow, also a forward, averaged eight points per game and guard Michael Fresquez averaged six points.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Justin Evans, a junior power forward, who averaged 8 points per game last year. Evans has decent size at 6 feet 4 inches, 185 pounds. Ramon Jackson offers the Panthers speed, which he used to blow by defenders during the football season. Jackson is a 6-foot junior guard who weighs about 160 pounds.
OUTLOOK: Evans is the go-to guy this season. But the Panthers are in trouble with an inexperienced group. This year will be a rebuilding year for Clay.
COACH: Mike Krueger, 5th year
1999: 4-8 and 12-11 in 4A Southwestern Conference
STRENGTHS: The Bulldogs have been to the state tournament the past two years. Last year, they lost to the state champion Sierra Stallions in a quarterfinal game. The Bulldogs will build on that playoff experience with more size than they have ever had, Krueger says.
WEAKNESSES: No returning starting experience.
KEY PLAYERS LOST: All-state forward Ryan Hayden averaged 19 points per game last year. Josh Brown, point guard, also will be missed.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Chase Spaid, 6-foot-4, is a returning post player who will be very strong down low. He averaged about three rebounds per game in 1999. Garrett Swank was Brown's backup at the point guard position in 1999. He didn't play a lot of minutes but dished out two assists per game.
OUTLOOK: It doesn't appear to be another state playoff season for the Bulldogs but the team certainly will be competitive in the 4A Western Slope Conference. "We have the talent to be very good," Krueger said. "It's a matter of picking up the offense. I think we very well could be a second-half team."
7. Battle Mountain
COACH: Kyle Hageness, 2nd year
1999: 3-7 and 7-14 in 3A Western Slope Conference
STRENGTHS: The Huskies are young but a group of underclassmen were on varsity last season. This summer, players worked hard attending various basketball camps, Hageness said.
WEAKNESSES: A young team also is a minus. Size is a problem, too.
KEY PLAYERS LOST: Small forward Ben Pereida averaged 11 points per game last season. Adam Martinez, also a forward, averaged 13 points per game.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Josh Henry, who is a center, is a returning starter. Henry is 6 feet 6 inches tall and 205 pounds. Jimmy Medina is another returner and shooting guard.
OUTLOOK: Battle Mountain won only three games in the 3A conference last season. The team's jump to 4A will be more detrimental to its success.The Huskies' forward will have problems against some of the big boys in the conference. Austin Wignall is a 6-foot-2, 180 pound small forward. Ken Beaudoin, also a small forward, is 6-foot, 185 pounds. With a young bunch, the future could be promising after the 2000 season.