When state tournament brackets for Colorado’s 2A Classification were released at the end of last week, the Mancos High School basketball team immediately realized that it would need a special effort to advance.
Picked as the Bluejays’ first-round opponent was No. 1-ranked Holly High School, which has been nearly unstoppable this season while winning all 24 of its games and failing to win by a double-digit point margin just once.
Top players for Holly this season include sophomore Brigden Parker, who has averaged 15.3 points and 5.9 rebounds per game this season, and senior Jarrett Rushton, who has averaged 13.0 points.
As unstoppable as the Wildcats have been, the one chink in their armor might be their lack of size: Only one player on their roster, 6-foot-6-inch senior Austin Jensen, stands taller than 6 feet, 3 inches. Thus, one would assume that Holly could be attacked in the paint and on the offensive glass.
Among the Mancos players hoping to exploit Holly’s lack of size is 6-foot-5 junior Caden Showalter, who averaged 15.9 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. Also hoping to make a difference down low for the Bluejays will be 6-foot-5 senior Hunter Hoover, who came up big during his team’s undefeated run through its district and regional tournaments.
An X-factor for Mancos could be the shooting of 6-foot-3 freshman Connor Showalter, who averaged 12.2 points per game this season and knocked down an eye-catching 56 of his 91 3-point field goals.
Also key for the Bluejays will be the health of senior Vassar Stephens, who sustained a concussion late in the regular season and was a nonfactor throughout the district and regional tournaments.
In the event that Stephens is able to return to his high-flying form and come close to his season averages of 13.4 points and 4.5 rebounds per game, the Bluejays could find themselves in position to upset the top-ranked team in Colorado’s 2A classification.
If Mancos is unable to take advantage of its size advantage in the paint however, Mancos could be in for a long game, as Holly has shown itself more than capable of blowing out the state’s top teams.
Regardless of whether the Bluejays win or lose, fans can count on the fact that the team will play hard and be well-prepared, thanks to first-year head coach Elijah Knepper, who has produced eye-catching results in his first season.
If Mancos defeats Holly on Thursday, the Bluejays will advance to a Friday matchup against the winner of a contest between No. 4-seeded Highland High School and No. 5-seeded Limon High School.
Mancos’s opening-round game against Holly is Thursday at the Budweiser Events Center at 10:15 a.m. Results of the contest will be available online at www.the-journal.com.