It was a fun week for Colorado Preps as we spent most of our time traveling the state taking in games at Fowler, Mead, Holyoke, Hugo and Strasburg from Tuesday through Saturday.  Following COVID, it’s been a welcome return to seeing teams in action after being limited to just two regular season game visits during the 2020-21 campaign.

One game we didn’t see was probably the win of the week as #7 Centauri took out #1 St Mary’s in Class 3A.  The Falcons were heavy underdogs and probably a bit tired after the long road trip and win at Montezuma Cortez to open the Intermountain league schedule.  But those tired legs did not show up against the fast paced Pirates offense as the Falcons scored the unexpected 70-64 win.

Pace is always crucial against St Mary’s as they push the ball on every possession and look for quick shots.  Centauri limited the Pirates to just 56 field goal attempts and held them to a season low in points; just the third game of ten the Pirates failed to reach 80.

Now it will be fun to see what the result does to the new 3A rankings due out on Monday.  It makes sense that the Falcons should be ranked ahead of the Pirates based on head-to-head but the gap between them last week was wide.  St Mary’s was one and Centauri was seventh.  Will voters drop the Pirates far enough and move the Falcons up high enough to reflect the win in the rankings.  Should happen but we don’t think it will.

One other note on Centauri; the Falcons as a whole.  This is a school that won the 1A football title in the Fall, just beat the top ranked team and pre-season state championship favorite in basketball and the school also holds down the top spot in 2A wrestling.  Quite a run for the La Jara based school.

Staying with Class 3A, it was quite the effort for Manual standout Jordan Reed in their win over Peak to Peak.  The lefty notched a whopping 53 points but didn’t stop there as he also handed out seven assists and nine rebounds.  The Thunderbolts are always a factor in the 3A state title chase and despite a loss to Sterling the week before, expect them to make another run; especially with Reed leading the offense.

Resurrection Christian also had a good week.  The Cougars won three games including an important win over top 10 rival Eaton.  Rez spent some time in the top 10 early in the season and likely makes a return on Monday.  A 15-5 run in the second quarter was the difference against Eaton.

Got a chance to see Strasburg’s win over Limon on Saturday.  Non-conference and cross-classification game but’s a solid rivalry that is big on the football field as the programs have won five of the last six 1A state championships.  As a result, the kids know each other very well and the intensity in play carries over to the hardwood.

The Indians used hot shooting to build an early 27-14 lead and tried to hang on from there.  Limon has championship pedigree and continued to chip away at the lead until they actually took a one point lead late in the fourth quarter.  Strasburg battled back and hit three of four free throws in the final minute to secure a 61-58 win.

Can’t underscore how big a win this was for a very young Strasburg club.  They had been blown out by Sterling earlier in the week but also had three prior losses by seven points or less.  It was a great lesson in learning how to win for the Indians and it may push them to more victories and a likely state tournament berth as seasons end.  Wins may be hard to come by in the rugged Patriot but the schedule keeps them in the running RPI wise.

Austin Velasco followed up a great effort against Valley on Friday with 17 points and 10 rebounds against Limon.  He’s just a sophomore but is the main threat in the paint for the Indians.  Landon Martin is a sophomore point guard who dished out 14 assists.  Senior leadership comes from Jake Gilbert and Adam Schneider who each scored 14 points including four three’s from Schneider.

One other player to watch is freshman Tyce Bollers.  Just a freshman, he came off the bench to hit two big three’s which should give him confidence as his first high school season moves along.

Despite the loss, expect Limon to be the chase for the 2A state championship.  Quite a few good pieces for the Badgers to make another run.  Had a couple of good looks down the stretch that didn’t go down or they easily could have been on the winning side Saturday night.

The Rockwell brothers are a very good tandem out front as both can handle the ball and both can knock down shots from various points on the floor.  Senior Brady has played important minutes in state playoff and championships so nothing will surprise him while sophomore Jordan plays without fear and has gained size and strength since his freshman season.  Dontari Arnold is a third guard that may get more minutes down the stretch as he provides more offense.  He hit a big three-pointer against Strasburg that could have tied the game at 44 and kept momentum on the Badgers side but it was wiped off the board due to an off-the-ball foul.

Michael Hoffman has stepped in nicely for the injured Trey Hines and fills the fifth spot for Limon.  Great hustle, understands the offense and can rebound.  There is size underneath with Kaden Becker and Eli Weisensee and off the bench from Treyton Marx.

Limon lost to Wray in the 2A state finals last year and we took in the Eagles against Holyoke on Friday night.  They held on for a narrow 47-43 win in a game that went down to the wire.  We consider the win impressive as it came on the road in league play with the Eagles playing without two starters.

Both Chris Arambula and Jaden Dodsworth missed the game with injury.  Dodsworth should return soon but Arambula will be down for a long time and maybe the entire season with an elbow injury suffered against Akron.  He’s the key loss as the Eagles need a point guard that can push tempo and direct the attack like they had a year ago with his older brother (Junior Arambula).  Without him, the Eagles will turn to junior Joey Uyemura who is solid but doesn’t have the varsity experience that Arambula can bring to the offense.

There is still plenty of talent with the Eagles and they feature good size.  Bryant Schoenthal is among the best players in Class 2A and his inside presence gave Holyoke fits on Friday.  Ryce Peterson, Rafael Trejo and AB Ruiz are all six-two or bigger forwards that can rebound and score inside.  Their length also provides coach Karson Kuntz the ability to sit in a 2-3 zone on defense and cover or trap virtually every square foot of the half-court.

Another key is Andrew Trejo who was a starter on the state championship group and can knock down big shots on the perimeter.

It was our second look at Holyoke and they’re a better club than back in December when they took out Byers with ease.  Love the backcourt trio of Cash Weber, Wyatt Sprague and Ethan Johnson as they will keep the Dragons close with any opponent.  Sprague and Johnson each scored 17 points against Wray with Johnson knocking in three treys.  The Dragons though lack size and a post presence that can also score in the paint.  Develop that area and the Dragons could make a deep postseason run because of their solid guard play.

Fowler also beat Rye last Tuesday in a game that should help determine the 2A Santa Fe chase.  The Grizzlies had beaten Holly three days earlier so the victory puts them in control of the league chase.  The Grizzlies have a nice mix of senior leadership and youth and that group will only get better throughout the season.  They finished December at 2-3 but have won their first four games of the New Year and as mentioned are in position to land another conference crown.

They displayed tremendous patience against the sagging zone of Rye in the game we watched.  The first field goal in the game for either team came with three seconds left in the first quarter as the Grizzlies led after one 3-0.  The lead at halftime was only 12-7 as both clubs were content to be patient against the zone.  Fowler opened things up a bit more in the second and got some mid range jumpers and a three from Harrison Proctor.  He’s one of two sophomores in the starting line along with Scott Mobbley.  He managed just one basket on the inside against the collapsing Rye zone but still led the Grizzlies with six rebounds.

Maybe the player we liked the best was senior Cash Anderson.  Once Rye switched to a man-to-man, Anderson took control with three excellent passes off the pick and roll.  He finished with seven assists and also added five points in the low scoring win.  Bradley Roe, another senior, led Fowler with 11 points.

One final note in Class 2A involves Mancos.  The Bluejays scored a huge conference win over Ignacio (63-40) last Tuesday.  It’s the first of two meetings but the win gives Mancos the upper hand to win the San Juan championship and earn the top district seed.  Balance was the key as Mancos placed four in double figures; Connor Showalter had 16, Evan Sehnert scored 14 and Edgar Hernandez and Mason Goodwin each tallied 13.

In Class 1A, Merino seems to be settling in and gaining consistency for another post-season run.  Coming off an upset loss to then one-win Fleming, the Rams righted the ship with a Friday win over Caliche and a Saturday road victory over top 10 ranked Genoa Hugo.  The Rams led Caliche by just one after three quarters but used a strong fourth quarter to pull away.  They kept that momentum in the near 20 point road win over Genoa Hugo.

We took in the game at Hugo as we wanted a look at the Pirates.  Genoa Hugo used two quick threes and a layup to build an early 8-0 lead.  They were unable to maintain that lead as the Pirates struggled with the overall size of Merino especially that of Derrick Alber.  The 6-5 senior kept the Pirates at bay defensively and was very effective at getting to the basket on offense.  The Rams also earned solid play from sophomores Kaden Piel and Tyler Miller.  Piel is also effective at getting to the rim and Miller is a solid ball-handler out front.  Zach Batt, a senior, can also score for the Rams and did a good job defensively against Trey Smith, the talented sophomore for Genoa Hugo.

Smith grabbed our attention quickly as he’s one of those guards that you can inbound the ball too against the press and everyone says “clear out”.  His ball-handling skills make the Pirates difficult to press.  He was not as effective in the half court game as he struggled against the bigger guards of Merino.

Genoa Hugo though will beat many teams and can push for a spot in the final eight.  Void of any size, they will have to shoot well from the outside and then out-work opponents.  Smith can shoot and so can Wyatt Miller and Colby Simmons.  Miller is also a very hard worker that snatches up loose balls and rebounds on both ends of the floor.  Simmons is the third scorer and has the ability to drive to the hoop very well.

Caprock Academy opened the week ninth in Class 1A and we’ll see if they stay there.  They scored a road overtime win at Ouray last Tuesday and then split two games with 2A opponents from Vail over the weekend.  The results were maybe reversed from what we expected as they lost to Vail Christian on Friday but then upset 9th ranked Vail Mountain (2A) the next night.  They should land a district title in 1A and that gives them a strong chance to earn their first ever state tournament bid.  In that scenario, Caprock will need just one win over the runner-up team from the 5280 conference in the regional round to qualify.

Last Wednesday, we stepped away from our small school comfort zone to take in the game between 4th ranked Mead (4A) and Silver Creek.  Loved the atmosphere and intensity between student sections as the teams battled for a full 32-minutes.  Mead opened a big lead, Silver Creek cut it to two but then the defending state champion Mavericks pulled away late for the 62-45 decision.

Mead did nothing to sway us from the opinion that they’re the team to beat in Class 4A.  As we mentioned in previous columns, they have not lost to a 4A team in Colorado so each setback is against opponents they will not face in the bid to repeat.  The Mavericks of course are led by returning 4A player of the year in senior guard Elijah Knudsen and seven foot center James Shiers.  Both played well on Wednesday but the difference may have been the play of Nick Basson.

Basson missed the last two games of the state title run last year due to medical issues but is back playing at a high level this year.  After Silver Creek had cut the lead to 41-39 in the third quarter, Basson responded with a big three to open a personal seven point run that put the Mavericks back in control.  Should he continue to provide such offense, his Mavericks will be a very tough out come March.

More complimentary players make Mead a very good team.  Nathan Hoffman can knock down three-pointers and we easily noticed the boost of Dominic McLawrence off the bench.  The sophomore had just four points but provided plenty of “dirty points” with eight rebounds and a steal.  He earned some critical minutes in the fourth quarter against Silver Creek and that trend could continue in the second half of the season.

Silver Creek has to compete on the 5A level for the post-season and that will make it difficult because they lack some size across the board compared to others in that division.  There is talent for coach Bob Banning.  Tanner Call netted 20 against the Mavericks and even though he’s probably listed as the post-player, he’s very effective and turning, facing and scoring on the inside.  Andrew Scott had two three pointers in the loss and Bridger Sutherland can also direct the offense.  All three players are seniors.

Some other quick notes in 5A starts with the Centennial league and how fun a race it will be this year.  Through the first two weeks of conference play, no team is unbeaten.  Cherry Creek, Smoky Hill and Eaglecrest are all 3-1 with Overland at 2-1.  Easy to say that the league champion may end up with three or even four losses.

Rangeview has great basketball tradition but was not in the Top 10 last week.  That could change based on their 53-52 win over then 4th ranked Chaparral last week.  That and their win over Valor Christian two nights later pushed the Raiders record to 8-4.  Elijah Thomas had 17 points, five rebounds and four assists versus Chaparral.

Let’s also keep an eye on Horizon.  With all the attention focused on the Centennial and Continental leagues, the Hawks are 8-2 out of the gate.  While the top teams in the other two leagues battle and beat up on each other, Horizon may only stumble against Fossil Ridge in the Front Range league.   If that happens, the Hawks will be way up there in terms of RPI at seasons end and could possibly earn a top six playoff seed.  They open this week seventh in those standings after beating Monarch 69-51 in their conference opener last Friday.  Colby Jimenez netted 24 points and three others reached double figures in the win.  The Hawks also buried 14 three-pointers including six from Jimenez.