Week one in January brings with it the start of conference action in Class 2A including the second battle between Crowley County and Rocky Ford inside the Santa Fe conference.  The two rivals met on December 2nd and the rematch is set for this Saturday.  It’s one of several important early conference clashes on the weekend slate.
Crowley County moved up to 2nd in the last CHSAA basketball rankings before Christmas and their 50-22 blowout of Rocky Ford helped their climb.  Hayden Carter and Lane Walter each scored 15 points to pace the Chargers.  Bradley Carnes-Clabey added 11 points and 10 rebounds.  Walter also pulled down 10 boards.
The Chargers enter January with a perfect 7-0 mark for first year coach Bret Rusler.  Rusler though is not a stranger to the Santa Fe conference as he competed there in high school and also had a successful run at Swink a few years back.
Rocky Ford has won three straight since the loss to Crowley County.  The Meloneers who are led by junior Christopher Gonzales, also meet Sangre De Cristo the night before in non-league play.  Gonzales scored 24 points in two games with Crowley County a year ago.
Highland went a perfect 11-0 to win the Mile-High crown last year and the quest for back-to-back crowns begins Friday at Dayspring Christian.  The Huskies gained plenty of momentum for the conference chase by handling Liberty Common 66-35 in their final December contest.  The Huskies moved to 3-3 with the win and they’ve played a tough schedule which includes losses to Yuma, Eaton and Platte Valley.
First year coach Pete Freeman has the Huskies playing a fast-paced offense with the three-pointer playing a crucial role.  Freeman is a former Highland player who has been the assistant to Jim Altergott at Liberty Common the past few years and also played for him as a Husky.
Tate Bessire (15.7), Trey Allmon (14.2) and Koby Anderson (11.7) score a majority of the points as the rest of the Highland team combines for 17 points per game.
Dayspring Christian’s two losses are by a combined five points to Limon (39-37) and Akron (37-34).  They ended up fourth in league play a year ago and hopes for a second straight top four finish may depend on the play of Jimmy Fargo and Christian Still.  Fargo (9.2) is the only one of the top four scorers from last year back with the club this year.  Still, who played quarterback for the football team, hopes to contribute as a freshman in basketball as well.
Simla goes to Peyton on Friday to get the Black Forest conference schedule off and running.  Both Simla (5-0) and Peyton (3-2) played and beat 1A rivals Kiowa and Elbert but the margin of victory battle was easily won by Simla.  They captured the two wins by a combined 66 points compared to just 29 for the Panthers.
Peyton played virtually an even month of basketball in December scoring 163 points and giving up 161.  Freshman Gavin Miller (11.8) has provided a good spark to the offense through the first five games of his high school career.
Simla was very young a year ago and they remain that way this season as the top four scorers are all underclassmen.  Joel George (11.0), Gunner Rapp (10.4) and Cole Mitchell (10.2) all average double figures and Darias Harms (9.0) is pushing to get there as well.  The balance prevents defenses from focusing on one or two players and allows the Cubs to average 57 points as a team.
Evangelical Christian (3-3) hopes to make waves in the Black Forest this year and they get in another non-conference test against Byers (6-1) on Saturday.  The Eagles this year are under the direction of former Air Academy girls coach Bob Wingett.  He’s taken over the program from Don Bost who is now an assistant to David Guy at Simla.
The Eagles had won two in a row but lost their December finale to Limon (52-43).  Justin Holt averaged 7.7 points per game last year but has bumped that to 18.2 this year.  The senior has reached double figures in all six games including three of least 20.  Cameron Rawlings (9.5) and Bradley Hartsock (9.2) are two classmates that provide depth on the offensive end.
Byers begins the second half on a six-game winning streak.  They’re 5-0 when they score at least 70 points and 1-1 when they don’t.  Austin Davis (16.1), Brady Shelley (14.1) and Hayden McCuen (11.9) trigger the up-tempo offense.  Davis had a season high 29 against Holyoke and also netted 21 vs Genoa Hugo.  Shelley leads the Bulldogs with 11 three-pointers on 35 attempts.
One common opponent for Byers and ECA is 3A Vanguard.  Byers lost to the Coursers 78-40 in their opener and ECA fell by almost the same margin (71-49) in the middle of the month.
The favorite for the Western Slope chase right now is basically unknown.  DeBeque (6-0), Plateau Valley (4-0) and Vail Christian (4-1) have the best overall records but many other teams inside the league have played tougher schedules.  That leaves the race wide-open as conference play opens this weekend.
Key games in our minds have Paonia going to Plateau Valley and West Grand visiting Meeker on Friday.  Then on Saturday, Vail Christian goes to West Grand and Plateau Valley heads to Hotchkiss.
Since Plateau Valley is involved in two of our key games this week, we’ll start with the Cowboys.  They’ve beaten Caprock Academy, Nucla, Norwood and Ouray so games with Paonia and Hotchkiss this week and Vail Christian and Meeker next week will provide for much more difficult competition.  If the Cowboys get through the stretch 3-1 or 4-0, they will contend for the league championship.  Layne Christensen and Stevenson Reynolds each average 15 points per game for the Cowboys.
Paonia is the defending champion but lost 58 points per game to graduation.  Not returnee for the Eagles averaged more than four points per game last year.  The Eagles (3-3) though are unbeaten against 2A clubs including a non-league win over Hotchkiss by 17 points.  All three losses are against 3A rivals.
The loss to Paonia is the only 2A loss for Hotchkiss (4-3).  The Bulldogs won 16 games a year ago and return 16-point per game scorer Sam Ridriguez.
Meeker (3-2) won their own tournament to start the season but ended December with losses to 3A opponents Coal Ridge and Grand Valley.  Despite the losses, the games will boost Meeker’s RPI and possible post-season bracketing later in the season.  The Cowboys are senior dominated as the top five scorers are all playing their final season of high school hoops.  Logan Hughes (16.0) and Zac Dinwiddie (13.0) lead the team in offense but Eli Newman (6.8) and Doak Mantle (6.6) and Valentine Rosas (5.4) can all score when called upon.
West Grand (3-3) gets 13 points a game from Austin Stauffer and nine from Luis Dominguez.  The Mustangs finished 6-6 in conference play last season and 10-11 overall.
Ignacio (4-1) is unbeaten against Colorado schools with a lone loss to Grand County UT.  The San Juan League favorites get in two tough battles this weekend as they face local rivals and larger classification opponents Bayfield and Durango.  It’s part of a four-team Southwest Colorado tournament that also features 3A Montezuma Cortez.
The Bobcats, who opened league play by downing Mancos 67-32 in December, have high hopes this year as their top five scorers and 11 of their top 12 from last year are back in uniform.  The program is no stranger to the state tournament and have the talent to get there again this season.  Leaders include Johnny Valdez, Kevin Pardo, Lawerence Valdez, Calvin Lovato and Kai Roubideaux.
Sedgwick County and Merino from the Lower Platte face strong 1A opponents this weekend.  The defending state runner-up and top ranked Cougars host Fleming on Saturday and Merino challenges 1A #2 Peetz the same night.  Kerry Sherman will include a look at those games in our 1A boys preview published later this week.
Colorado Preps will track scores each night of the regular season and they will be posted inside our Daily Scoreboard.  Final scores can be sent to Colorado Preps by email to [email protected] or by text to 970.380.7737.