With pre-season practices and scrimmages in the rear view mirror, the 2018-19 basketball season has officially opened and many teams on the 1A and 2A level will focus on tournament play this weekend.  We will spotlight some of the top matchups there and also pick out a few non-tournament games that gain our attention in week one.
In Class 1A, a couple of tournament games on Thursday could get the season started in exciting fashion as John Mall (2A) meets Manzanola at Trinidad State and Sierra Grande takes on South Baca as part of the Ballard Classic in Springfield.
Manzanola won 13 games a year ago and could increase that number as both Blake Williams and Axel Escareno return.  Williams averaged 15 points, 12 rebounds and three assists as a freshman while Escareno dropped in 15 points a game as a sophomore.  They hope to challenge for a top two spot in the Southern Peaks; a league that also features Sangre De Cristo.
John Mall captured just seven wins last year and lost three seniors to graduation but the Panthers also appear to be on the upswing.  They return leading scorers Phillip Valdez (9.9) and Nikko Vallejos (9.8) to the lineup.  Vallejos also pulled down nearly six rebounds last season.
Sierra Grande (18-5) enters a season for the first time in five years without Arthur Rodriguez.  The four-year starter closed out his high school career last season by averaging 29 points, nine rebounds and four assists per game.  His graduation leaves a huge hole in the Panthers lineup.  Dylan Milner and Ambrosio Mondragon both scored nearly seven points a game last year and may need to produce more this year for the Panthers to match their win total from 2016-17.
South Baca of course reached the state finals last year before falling to Peetz in a great championship game.  Like Sierra Grande, they must find more scoring from returnees as both Micah Crane and Thomas Manuel graduated.  Together they scored 42 points a game a year ago.  Shadow Varnado (13.5) and Enrique Gutierrez (9.1) both return to the Patriots lineup.
Friday marks the first time Peetz steps on the court since landing the state crown last March.  As always, they open as hosts for the annual Carlisle Classic and will face Caliche in their opener.  The Bulldogs lost a talented and deep senior class but return Bryson Long who averaged 11 points and three rebounds during the title run.  Other key contributors back include Zach Holtz and Cooper White.
Peetz could meet Otis in the finals on Saturday and that could serve as an excellent early season clash.  Otis welcomes back both Cullen Glosson (21 pts) and Ty Hunt (16) to their high scoring lineup.  Glosson will likely miss the game and several others due to an injury suffered near the end of the football season.
Idalia hosts a tournament this weekend that involves DeBeque.  The Dragons open with Briggsdale on Friday and will be favored there.  The game marks the season debut for Brennan Rigsby who poured in 24 points per game as a freshman last year.  If they get by Briggsdale as expected, the Dragons will likely meet Idalia in the finals on Saturday.  The Wolves won just four games last season but could get a boost from an exchange student from Spain this winter.  We hope to get a look at both players in person this week.
Away from the brackets is a good Friday clash between Fleming and Haxtun.  A good local rivalry that carries more importance this year as the Bulldogs come into the 1A division for the post-season.  Haxtun won 13 games in Class 2A last year and returns the duo of Joey Gerk (13 pts) and Braden Anderson (10 pts / 8 rebs).  Fleming split 22 games last year and lost their top two scorers to graduation but has a good nucleus to build on with Kade Comestock and Brandon Williams.  Comestock provided nine points and three assists as a freshman point guard while Williams added eight points as a sophomore.
A Wednesday matchup between Peyton and Highland in Ault starts off the 2A campaign in solid fashion.  The Huskies won 22 games and reached the state tournament again last year and return double figure scorers Tate Bessire (17.4) and Koby Anderson (14.2) so they will be favored.  Peyton finished 7-13 last year but should be better this year as they return their entire varsity lineup.  Gavin Miller (9.0) and Brennen Myers (6.0) combined for 15 points a game as freshmen so look for them to be better and stronger this year.  They’re joined by Brendon Younger who led the team in scoring with nearly ten a game last year and Rodney Gregg who averaged seven points and seven rebounds as a junior.
On Thursday, Del Norte goes to Monte Vista in one of many excellent rivalry games in the San Luis Valley.  The Tigers go without Carlos Parra for the first time in five years.  The lefty averaged 29 points a game a year ago and scored over 1,500 points in his final three high school seasons.  Picking up the slack will be Izaeh Peterson and Kade Glover.  Peterson averaged nearly 14 points and six rebounds a year ago and Glover totaled eight points and six assists an outing.
Also on tap in the SLV will be a Friday date between Alamosa and Sanford; two of the more tradition rich programs in all of Colorado.  The Moose (3A) have won at least 20 games each of the past five years while the goal for the Indians each year is to land the state championship.  Both teams will need new faces to step up as the Indians lost their top five scorers to graduation and Alamosa their top three.
Defending state champion Yuma opens the new season against a long-time rival as they visit Wray on Friday.  The Indians are heavily favored as the Eagles have not won more than four games in any season since ending up 19-6 in the 2010-11 campaign.
Yuma of course beat Crowley County in the state finals last March and for the Chargers it was their only loss of the season.  They begin the new year at the Limon Tournament where they face Ignacio in the opening round on Friday.  Crowley County, which lost six of their top eight scorers to graduation, still features some size in Lane Walter.  He averaged nine points and seven rebounds a year ago.  Ti’Quan Williams will again run the point and may score more than the six points per game last season.
Ignacio is in a similar situation as the Bobcats lost four of their top six scorers from a state tournament team to graduation.  Leading the list of returnees is Lawrence Ruffin-Valdez who scored nearly 13 points a game to go along with four assists and four steals, and Ocean Hunter who chipped in seven points and seven rebounds each night.
Another interesting tournament pairing is found at the Corridor Classic in Strasburg where Byers faces Cornerstone Christian (1A) on Friday.  Both clubs are coming off state tournament appearances last March and Byers came close to knocking off eventual champion Yuma in the semifinals (58-54).
Cornerstone (17-8) is favored to land the 5280 conference as they return their top two scorers in Brandt Vos (17.6) and Christian Lambertson (12.1).  Byers lost Austin Davis (19 pts — 6 rebs) to graduation but the Bulldogs return all-stater Hayden McCuen.  He averaged 10 points and six rebounds per game as a junior.  They also return key guard Brady Shelly (12 pts) and Zaine Mikita (6 pts / 4 rebs).
Simla welcomes in former Black Forest league rival Evangelical Christian on Friday.  The Eagles have dropped into Class 1A for the next two years but will be a good early test for the Cubs after finishing 17-7 last year.  The Eagles lost their top three scorers to graduation but get back Brayden Hekkers who averaged six points and five rebounds a game a year ago.   Simla (18-6) has virtually their entire roster returning for a run at the state tournament this year.  Among the list of returnees are Joel George (14 pts), Cole Mitchell (11), Gunner Rapp (9), Darias Harms (8), Brad Mazerall (6) and Gaige Ashmore (4).  All six also averaged between three and six rebounds per game while Rapp handed out five assists per game and George provided four steals.