Saturday, November 24, 2001
Steamboat Springs Balanced.
It's a word that is not often used to describe the boys basketball 4A Western Slope Conference, where Steamboat and Rifle have reigned as perennially powerhouses. But, that is exactly how coaches around the conference are sizing up this year's competition.
With traditional league leaders Steamboat and Rifle minus most of last year's starting lineup and last year's low lying teams Delta and Battle Mountain returning most of its squad, competition is evening out this year.
While coaches along the Western Slope still have Steamboat and Rifle as the teams to beat, the strength of last year's worst league teams could threaten to reverse last year's standings.
"Very balanced," Sailors coach Kelly Meek said describing the league. "In fact, the two teams that finished in the bottom of the league played everybody close and returned everybody. They didn't graduate a kid."
Battle Mountain seems to be the team on the lips of all most every coach in the conference. And that is because the Huskies are returning four senior starters, one being 6-foot-7 center Josh Henry, who has come up with big points against Steamboat in the past.
Helping out Henry will be forwards Austin Wignal and Andy Linka and guards Isaac Martinez and Jim Medina. Although they might not have earned a winning record, the majority of the team has plenty of varsity experience. Henry, Wingal and Medina have been starting since their freshman years and Martinez started as a sophomore.
Delta, which has fielded strong boys basketball teams in the past, might regain its old prominence this season as it returns with most of last year's starting lineup intact.
Rifle, which finished second in the league, looks to remain at the top with its size leading the way. Although Rifle is returning just two starters, Bears coach Roger Walters is looking at his smallest starter at 6-foot-1.
At point guard, 6-foot-1 Andy Gardineer will be returning to his starting position as will 6-foot-2 forward Steven Winschell. Gardineer was one of the top players in the state for assists and Winschell was a top rebounder for the Bears last year.
But the Bears' major size will come from 6-foot-9 senior center Carl Day, and 6-foot-6 forward Ryan Shideler. At 6-foot-1, Brackett Pollard is also expected to be a major contributor. But Rifle will still have to recover from the loss of all-state leading scorer Brian Beecraft, who averaged 21.7 points per game in his junior year. The Bears also lost a quick guard Charlie Terrell and honorable mention all-conference player Tommy George.
Moffat County and Palisade, which also advanced to the district tournament, saw many of its starters lost to graduation. The Bulldogs' top scorers and rebounders, Kevin Voorhees and Jeff Gaylord, have graduated, but coach Blaine Corlett is looking for leadership from senior point guard Kyle Hazelwood.