Conference play heats up in boys basketball and several top leagues have league favorites getting together for important battles.  A preview of many of those matchups are below as Colorado Preps looks at the weekend schedule.

Photo by Steve Abeyta


Rugged 5A Continental chase gets started with great matchups

Five teams from the Continental are ranked in the 5A Top 10 this week and a sixth was there for the first two polls of the season.  Those six clubs meet up in three tremendous pairings on the opening day of the conference schedule.  Top ranked ThunderRidge is home to #10 Douglas County; #5 Rock Canyon goes to #6 Regis and #4 Chaparral heads to Mountain Vista with all three games are set for Friday.

ThunderRidge is the conference favorite and the pick by most to land another state championship.  The defending champs are 9-0 but are getting everyone’s best shot each time they step on the court.  They’ve survived some tight battles with three of their four wins after Christmas coming by single digits.  They opened by edging Cherry Creek 48-47 and in the last two games, held off Broomfield 51-44 and Ralston Valley 67-62.  Zack Keller leads the Grizzlies in both scoring (18.4) and rebounds (7.2) but is just one of four players who average double figures in scoring.

Douglas County (10-1) has not played the same level of schedule but did move past George Washington impressively (72-62) in their last appearance.  Ty Nettles led the effort with 17 points and Jaeton Hackley added 15.  Jaheim Hall and Xander Baldessari provided more offensive balance with 10 points apiece.  Their lone loss is against Denver East and have not beaten a ranked team this year.

Rock Canyon and Regis have had very similar seasons ahead of their league date.  Both are unbeaten against Colorado teams with each suffering three out of state losses.  They’re a combined 5-0 after Christmas as well with Rock Canyon downing Dakota Ridge (53-52), Fairview (62-46) and Vista Peak (65-42).  Regis has beaten Valor Christian (72-55) and Columbine (71-60).

Another similar trait is offensive balance as each team has three double-digit scorers.  Rock Canyon is led by Braxton Jones (13.4), Gavin Hershberger (12.4) and Chris Schlesinger (12.5) and Regis counters with Archer Vansickle (15.2), Tarea Fulcher (13.6) and Kyle Sander (10.3).

Chaparral’s (9-3) three losses are by a combined six points and they enter the conference opener on a two game skid following setbacks to Denver East (66-64) and Rangeview (53-52).  The third loss came against Fossil Ridge in December.  Luke Williams (16.8) and Joel Speckman (15.7) continue to lead the offense and combined for 32 points in the loss to Denver East.  They also totaled 27 against Rangeview.

Mountain Vista (8-3) was ranked ninth in the first two coaches poll of the season and could climb back in the top 10 by downing Chaparral this week.  The Golden Eagles are 2-0 since the break with convincing wins over Valor Christian (88-51) and Boulder (86-53).  They’ve shown great depth on offense as 11 players scored against Valor and 12 against Boulder.  Eight different players totaled 11 three’s against Valor and five combined for eight against Boulder.

2A/1A Western Slope could see some early shuffling

Considered a wide open race to begin the season, #9 Caprock Academy (1A), #8 Vail Mountain (2A) and Vail Christian (2A) have emerged as leading contenders.  Caprock Academy faces both Vail teams this weekend; taking on the Saints Friday and Gore Rangers on Saturday.

Caprock is coming off is coming off their best season in school history (12-4) and got a taste of the postseason a year ago.  They return three seniors, Johnathon Abshear (15.5), Andrew Jordan (12.0) and Hayden McDonald (10.0) who average double figures and hope to lead the Eagles to their first trip to the final eight.  They improved to 6-0 by beating Ouray in overtime on the road this past Tuesday (58-49).

Vail Mountain is 6-1 and is already 3-0 in league play with wins over Plateau Valley, Rangely and North Park.  They also scored a quality win over 3A North Fork on Wednesday (79-35) as Nick Kirwood scored a game high 22 points.  Cole Pattison added 17 and Beck Sapp 14.

Vail Christian has won their last four games including a solid win over Meeker (51-36) in December.  The last couple of years the Saints relied to two impressive scorers to challenge for the league championship but this season has turned to depth and balance to get wins in six of their first seven games.  Eight players are averaging between five and 12 points a game with Quinn Downey (11.5) the lone scorer in double figures.  He netted 11 against Meeker with Jeffrey Hall topping the chart at 13.

Springfield seeks second straight top 10 upset

UPDATE:  Game postponed to January 27th

With momentum from their win over Cheyenne Wells last week, Springfield challenges 2nd ranked Granada on Thursday night.  A victory should get the Longhorns into the top 10 for the first time all season.  Kyler Crane scored 22 points in last Saturday’s win over Cheyenne Wells with Colby Batterton (15) and Cooper Stolebarger (13) also reaching double figures.  Defensively, Springfield limited Cheyenne Wells to just 34 percent from the field but were outrebounded 33-20.  The win was the Longhorns third in a row following a tough 0-3 start.

Thursday’s matchup is the first of three games this week for Springfield as they host Primero on Friday and go to Centennial on Saturday.  All three are non-conference meetings.

Granada is unbeaten (8-0) with two wins coming last week as they blitzed Deerfield KS and Eads by a combined 65 points.  The Bobcats outscored Eads 28-15 in the second half to pull away for the 51-35 decision.  Offensive balance was the key as Maddox Coleman dropped in 18u; Dominic Coleman 15 and Jonus Guverra 10.  The Bobcats shot 51 percent from the field overall but connected on just one of 13 three-point attempts.

First of several Top 10 matchups inside the Lower Platte

#4 Wray and #7 Holyoke meet for the second time this season and the battle on Friday carries a bit more weight as it counts in the Lower Platte league standings.  It will be used to help seed the district tournament.  Wray won the first battle by 27 points (57-30) and will be favored in the rematch.  Bryant Schoenthal led the Eagles in scoring with 14 points and also pulled down 16 rebounds.  Those numbers have helped him average a double-double for the entire season.

Jaden Dodsworth added 12 and Joey Uyemura added 11 points in the first game.  Uyemura may not play after suffering an injury in last week’s win over Akron.

Holyoke (6-2) did not get a player to double figures in the first meeting but they have offensive firepower with the duo of Wyatt Sprague and Ethan Johnson.  They combined for 31 points in the loss to Yuma last week but many came after the game was decided as the Indians jumped to a 30-8 advantage.  The Dragons will seek a much better start in the rematch with Wray.

Key league game inside the 2A Mile High

#2 Denver Christian (2A) and #9 Highland (3A) are favored to battle for the Mile High championship but Heritage Christian could be one of the teams hoping to break into the top two.  The Eagles challenge Denver Christian on Friday and because of a loss to Highland this season, probably need a win to remain in contention.  Denver Christian has opened league play with dominant wins over Gilpin County and Lyons and hope to be unbeaten when they line up against Highland on January 29th.

The Thunder’s best win after Christmas came last week against Limon as they beat the Badgers 58-37 on the road.  They outscored the Badgers 33-12 in the second half and committed just seven turnovers in the win.  The Thunder shot 48 percent from the field and drilled six three-pointers.  Derrin Quinn led the scoresheet with 14 points, Xander Neu added 12, Ben Buhler 11 and Aden Cariveau 10.

Heritage Christian has relied on the tandem of Zebediah Bowers and Samuel Lundy of late.  Lundy was 11 of 14 from the field and totaled 25 points in last week’s win over Dayspring Christian.  He also chipped in 15 points in a victory over Dawson.  Bowers led the way in that game with 22 points.

Heavyweights collide in the 3A Patriot

#2 Sterling plays host to #8 University in a fun early conference battle in the Patriot.  The Tigers have sit atop the conference for many years and the Bulldogs are one of many this year trying to knock them off the perch.  The Bulldogs (8-2) are coming off a tough 57-55 loss at Brush on Tuesday so they may be a bit desperate as a second early loss may knock them out of title contention.

University’s last three games have been decided by single digits and they’ve won two despite missing leading scorer Tayt Chacon for all three and Desmond Williams for the first two.  Williams returned against Brush and totaled 16 points to finish just behind Andrew Mendoza for top scoring honors.  Chacon averages 25 points and nine rebounds a game and the Bulldogs hope he will return for the matchup with Sterling.

The Tigers (8-1) are playing well as they led Strasburg 39-11 at halftime on their way to a 63-31 road win.  It was their first game action since scoring the win at Manual last Saturday and the Tigers did not suffer a letdown.  They allowed Strasburg just eight field goals on the game in 37 attempts.

Gryphon Trophy up for grabs between #7 Holy Family and Broomfield

Long time city rivals, the Tigers and Eagles renew their rivalry on Friday and the winner gains the coveted Gryphon Trophy.  The teams enter on different momentum; Holy Family opened 1-2 but has won seven straight while Broomfield began 5-1 but has dropped three in a row to Ralston Valley, ThunderRidge and Denver South.

Might expect Broomfield to get a bit more aggressive on the offensive end with the hopes of drawing more fouls and ending a disparity at the foul line.  The Eagles were outscored 18-4 there against Denver South and then 17-4 against ThunderRidge.  The numbers were much better against Ralston Valley earlier this week as the Mustangs won the line by just one (18-17).  And both teams had 25 attempts.

Holy Family scored a quality win over Centaurus last Wednesday (53-46).  They outscored the Warriors 23-6 in the second quarter and held on from there.  Seven players got into the scoring column; led by Eric Quintana with 12 and Rocco Bridges with 11.  Jackson Ward added five rebounds.

Tough weekend on tap for Centauri

One of the most difficult road trips for any team in any conference is a visit to Montezuma Cortez and that’s how #7 Centauri (3A) opens the Intermountain league slate.  The long road trip means a late night or early morning getting home and this weekend, the Pirates must quickly rebound to host #1 St Mary’s on Saturday.  It’s by far their most difficult weekend of the year but will give the Falcons a barometer of how they stack up against maybe the divisions’ best team.  The game is also important to St Mary’s, especially for RPI as they do not face a team currently ranked in the top 10 for the rest of the season.

A tired opponent is not a good matchup against St Mary’s as they force teams to play a fast paced contest.  They’ve scored at least 80 points in their last seven games with a season low of 70.  By comparison, Centauri has not scored more than 65 in any contest this season.

Baron Holmen may be the key for Centauri.  He leads the Falcons with 16 points a game and has 10 three-pointers on the season.  Kaleb Anderson also chips in eight points and a team best 6.5 rebounds.

The Pirates push the ball with point guard Sam Howery at 24 points per game.  He adds 9.2 assists and seven rebounds.  Andon Mindrup is at a double-double with 18 points and 13 rebounds a game while Cyrus Hernandez provides 17 points a game.  All three were integral in getting the Pirates to the state finals a year ago.

More early season shuffling in the Northern conference

One of the better conferences in the state regardless of class, the league roster includes ranked clubs Mead, Holy Family, Centaurus and Mead along with tradition rich Windsor and Silver Creek.  Mead scored an important win over Silver Creek on Wednesday and the next big game is Saturday between #8 Centaurus and #9 Longmont.

Centaurus (9-3) is already 0-2 in conference so they face a must win situation to keep their league championship hopes alive.  The Warriors opened 9-0 but have dropped three straight; falling to Holy Family and Windsor in conference play and Thompson Valley in-between.  Mead is also coming up next Tuesday so they’re in the midst of maybe their most difficult stretch of the season.

They seek a third scorer.  JT Lewicki (12.4) and Kevin Bedford (10.1) are the top two scorers and combined for 23 points in the loss to Holy Family.  Together, they hit 7 of 12 field goal attempts but the rest of the roster made just 2 of 18 attempts.

Longmont is 2-0 in the conference and so far has featured more depth on offense. They earned a combined 23 points from Keegan Patterson (13) and Caleb Johnson (10) in last week’s tough win over Silver Creek (56-49).  Two others led them in this week’s win over Greeley West as Brendan Barcewski scored 17 and Cole Corner 16.

Pueblo County preps for the South Central chase

Ranked 10th in Class 4A, Pueblo County (9-1) is getting some attention but they’re somewhat lost in the shuffle when compared to #1 Pueblo South and #5 Pueblo Central.  The Hornets open the rugged South Central slate with those two teams next week so they’ll use this weekend to prep for those showdowns. They’re on the court twice against Mesa Ridge on Friday and Palmer Ridge on Saturday.  Both will be tough tests and get them ready for conference activity.

Seven players score from five to 11 points a game on offense.  Seth Sherwood (11.1) and Will Vigil (9.8) are the top two on the list.  Sherwood also pulls down 6.8 rebounds.

Palmer Ridge may be the more difficult opponent this week.  They’re 7-5 against a rugged schedule that includes many 5A opponents.  They’re also part of the very competitive Pikes Peak league which includes Discovery Canyon.  The Thunder are the lone team to beat Pueblo County; downing the Hornets 67-44 before Christmas.