West Grand and Grand Valley are the early favorites

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— The West Grand and Grand Valley boys basketball programs are the early season favorites in the 2A Western Slope League this season, but don't tell that to the other four coaches in the league who will be taking the court this week looking for the title.

"I think we will be right in the mix with those two teams," North Park coach Steve Beck said. "Soroco is going to be much improved this season and you can never count any of the other teams out."

Hayden coach Matt Ray and Soroco's Andy Johnson are also hoping to improve on their 2000-2001 showings this season. The Rams will return to the court with a young group of players who gained a lot of experience last season. The Tigers will be trying to fill in after losing most of the team's starters, and will be counting on some talented younger players to carry the team.

"I think West Grand, Grand Valley and North Park are going to be tough teams, but I feel like we can compete with those teams," Johnson said.

West Grand coach Leo Pesch is expecting all of the teams in the league to be competitive this season. He thinks his team has enough talent to capture the league, but will have to perform at a high level this year if they want to win.

"To tell the truth, I will be disappointed if we don't win the league," Pesch said. "But it's not going to be a cake walk by any means."

Last year, his team finished with an 11-11 overall and posted the best mark in the league, but placed fourth in the league based on the tiebreakers with Grand Valley, North Park and Plateau Valley.

This season, the Mustangs will feature 6-foot-6 James Holmes, 6-foot-5 Jay Yust and 6-foot-4 Jarred Robertson.

The North Park Wildcats will also be in the hunt. Led by 5-foot-11 Scott Hodgson and 6-foot-2 Chris Lance, the team also looks primed to make a run this season.

"West Grand and Grand Valley are always good, and I don't see that changing this season," Beck said.

Each team in the league will play each other twice during the course of the season. Last year, Hayden and Soroco played in the league's district pigtail game.

This is the last year that these six teams will play in this league alignment. Next year, Meeker, Rangely and Paonia are expected to join the league.

"Things are going to be a lot different this time next year," Pesch said. "It's going to be a whole new ballgame."

The season will open this weekend with most of the league games coming after the holiday break.

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