Soroco pushes for the program | SteamboatToday.com

Soroco pushes for the program

Rams return to regionals for third consecutive season

It's been eight years of progress for the Soroco High School girls basketball team. The Rams hope to take the next step this weekend at the regional tournament.

— Sarajane Rossi considered the state of Soroco High School basketball on Thursday and could only marvel.

High school is not a distant memory for Rossi, a 2009 graduate from the school, but as far as basketball is concerned, it's a whole different world.

Soroco’s stepping up

The Rams have improved their record in each of David Bruner’s eight seasons.

2015-16 — 19-3

2014-15 — 19-4

2013-14 — 16-8

Recommended Stories For You

2012-13 — 14-6

2011-12 — 12-8

2010-11 — 11-6

2009-10 — 7-8

2008-09 — 7-11

"The Soroco girls junior varsity team from this season, they'd whup my senior year team's starting varsity," she said.

That's coming from someone who averaged 16 points per game her senior season and was selected to the state Class 2A all-star team.

Rossi has had a front-row seat to the metamorphosis the Soroco program has undergone, however, and she said the changes have been enormous. There's now a strong, established elementary and middle school basketball program to help build future players. There's also consistent coaching at all levels and consistent style and goals at every grade.

Rossi was a good player and, at best, could have been a part of a good team, but the years since her graduation have seen Soroco's coaches try to turn what was occasionally a good team into a good program, and the results have shown on the floor.

The Rams, 19-3, will begin play Friday in the district tournament against Highland.

A win would put the team in the regional finals for the third consecutive season. It's been frustrating to the squad that it hasn't broken through, but when players such as Rossi were in uniform, that kind of frustration still seemed a million miles away.

A basketball journey

Ground zero for the Rams renaissance is the South Routt home of David and Kim Bruner.

David Bruner has been the coach of the high school team since 2007. Kim Bruner, meanwhile, has run the middle school program.

In the Bruner household, basketball is king — or queen, as the case may be.

Their oldest daughter, DaKota Bruner, is one of the driving forces on this year's team, and there are two more daughters en route, Kayedence, and Kourtney.

The family made several coaching stops before reaching Oak Creek, and David Bruner said that journey was essential to the product he's putting on the floor today.

He was an assistant on a Class 1A state championship girls team at Prairie High School in 2001, working with longtime coach Maggie Kilmer.

She taught him plenty about running a program and about coaching girls.

"She told me, 'Coach your girls like they're boys,'" David Bruner said. "People can go overboard on backing off too much with girls. They're just as tough as boys."

After another stop in New Mexico and a very brief stint in Oklahoma, the Bruners headed back to Colorado, for the mountains and Routt County.

Ready to run

The Rams will start regional tournament action at 3 p.m. against Highland High School, from the town of Ault. The Huskies are 15-7 and will be attempting to reach their fourth consecutive regional championship.

David Bruner is high on the matchup.

"They're the total opposite of us," he said. "They're very patient, deliberate and try to get the ball inside. They don't like to get into a running game, so you know what our plan is."

The plan will be to run.

That's a plan not only for this year's team, but also for the entire Soroco program. It's something the Bruners set about installing as they came into coaching positions in Oak Creek.

It starts at the lowest level available in the district — third- and fourth-grade teams.

Team basketball wasn't really an option when Rossi was at that level. Now, Kim Bruner helps oversee teams all the way up to junior high, and from top to bottom, they use the same language, run the same plays and compete with the same philosophy as the high school team.

Rossi joined the program this winter as an assistant coach at the sixth-grade level.

"We got a binder from Dave full of all his plays, drills he likes to run in practice and motivational points," she said.

David Bruner stopped by practice at times early in the season, as did members of the high school varsity team.

The focus is split. Part of it is about off-the-court development, preparing young athletes for life. Part is on the court, a dedication to fundamentals such as ball handling and shooting.

And there's that philosophy, a fast-break attitude the Bruners are hoping continues to take root as the Soroco way to play.

"We're teaching them fast-paced offense and aggressive defense," Rossi said. "These kids get such a jump start, and it's really helped the program."

It's helped change the game since Rossi's years. David Bruner's first year was Rossi's last. The team went 7-11 that season and has improved every winter since.

Soroco had a winning season in 2011, winning 11 games, and hasn't looked back, winning 12, 14, 16 and 19 in the ensuing years.

If it wins Friday, that'd be 20, marking an eighth consecutive year of progress.

A step to take

Despite all that improvement, Soroco hasn’t taken the next step, to the state tournament. Its season has ended one game short each of the past two seasons.

If all goes well for the Rams, they could see a model of their program ambitions Saturday in the regional championship.

Paonia will play Lyons on the other side of the bracket, and the winner of that game will play the winner of Soroco's for the right to go to the eight-team state tournament.

Paonia has grown one of the strongest programs in the state. Under coach Scott Rienks, the Eagles have gone to seven of the past nine state tournaments and won four of the past eight league championships. The team reigned as state champs in 2010, then placed third last year.

It's as consistent as a high school program is likely to get, but it’s not Soroco’s model — not exactly.

The Rams want to do things their own way.

From the bottom to the top, third grade through 12th, they're hoping to build a program that turns young South Routt girls into strong, skilled basketball players, that teaches lessons about life on the court and off and that, year after year, plays long seasons. They’re hoping crucial match ups against the state's best teams, such as they’ll face this weekend, will continue to wait until late in every season and stay both exciting and expected.

Soroco’s stepping up

The Rams have improved their record in each of David Bruner’s eight seasons.

2015-16 — 19-3

2014-15 — 19-4

2013-14 — 16-8

2012-13 — 14-6

2011-12 — 12-8

2010-11 — 11-6

2009-10 — 7-8

2008-09 — 7-11

Regional showdown

3 p.m. Friday, vs. Highland, 15-7, at Coal Ridge High School

With a Soroco win:

2 p.m. Saturday, vs. Paonia, 20-2, or Lyons, 15-7