Soroco basketball player Matt Regan is part of the core group Rams coach Jake Eskridge thinks can do big things in the 2013-14 season if they play to their ability.

Joel Reichenberger/file

Soroco basketball player Matt Regan is part of the core group Rams coach Jake Eskridge thinks can do big things in the 2013-14 season if they play to their ability.

Middle of the pack not good enough for Soroco boys hoops

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— Settling for a mediocre season — even if it’s an improved season in the wins column — simply won’t fly with second-year Soroco High School boys basketball coach Jake Eskridge.

Graduation stole three starters from last year’s 9-11 team, but despite an eighth-place finish in the 2A/1A Western Slope League in 2012-13, those nine wins marked a steady improvement from a combined 10 wins the Rams tallied the two seasons before.

Some pieces are there this year to once again grow as a program, Eskridge said. But a .500 record, or even a few wins above that, isn’t the target for Soroco.

“I told them, ‘We can either do what we did last year and go .500, or we can work hard every night and we can be special,’” Eskridge said.

The team’s backbone will come in the form of senior big men Ryan Jeep (15 points and 10 rebounds per game in 2012-13) and Bjorn Carlson, who are 6-feet-5-inches and 6-feet-4-inches, respectively. The Rams’ quiet but active leader is Matt Regan, who poured in 11 points per game last year.

It’s simple basketball on both sides of the court for the Rams. On offense, things are mostly slowed down and played through the post to work the size advantage. On defense, they won’t press unless they need to in hopes of making their opponent prove itself in a half-court set.

Based on returning performers, points don’t seem to be a huge issue. In order to contend for a league championship, though, a well-executed defense with multiple looks will have to carry Soroco.

“It’s all about defense for us,” Eskridge said. “That’s what we are preaching. We did a lot of zone last year because that’s what they were comfortable with, but this year, if we want to go far we have to play lock-down man defense.”

Early-season scrimmages and practices tell Eskridge his Rams are further along than they were last winter. For a coach looking to take a program that has just two winning-record seasons during the past eight years to new heights, a focused and tough bunch has been welcomed with open arms.

“This is a good group,” Eskridge said. “When it’s time for conditioning or drills they don’t want to do, they don’t moan and groan. They just do it.”

When Soroco takes its home floor for the first time this season against North Park on Dec. 10, Eskridge is hoping his team can live up to its billing and the practice mindset will translate into games — and wins.

“They realize where we are at and the work we have to put in to get to our goal this year,” Eskridge said. “That’s probably my biggest thing as a coach is not settling on winning nine games. We can’t just coast.”

To reach Ben Ingersoll, call 970-871-4204, email bingersoll@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @BenMIngersoll

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