Standing near center court during a recent practice in his school’s newly renovated historic gym, Mancos High School senior Caden Showalter could hardly contain his excitement while discussing the upcoming prep basketball season.
The senior spoke about the valuable experience that he and his teammates gained last season while winning 17 of their 25 games and capturing the San Juan Basin League title and Class 2A Region 6 title.
Showalter heaped praise on his second-year head coach, Elijah Knepper, who he described as a “supportive guy” and a “great coach.” He then raved about the Bluejays’ talented roster, which includes a mix of experienced upperclassmen and talented newcomers.
“I like how hard we work, and I like how we’ve been putting everything on the line every practice,” Showalter said. “We have a lot of heart for the game, and I’m just really looking forward to how we are going to do this season. We want to make it back to the state tournament.”
Offensive efficiencyWhile great expectations surround the team, just how high the Bluejays soar could depend on the ability of players to limit their turnovers and move the ball efficiently in half-court sets.
Showalter, who averaged 15.8 points and 8.3 rebounds per game last season, will provide plenty of scoring punch from the low block, while the outside shooting of his brother, sophomore Connor Showalter, who converted 58 of his 91 3-point field goals last season while averaging 11.8 points per game, will look to stretch the floor.
Although the Bluejays will miss the contributions of graduates Vassar Stephens and Hunter Hoover, sophomores Evan Sehnert and Edgar Hernandez could fill the scoring void while anchoring their team’s tough perimeter defense.
Junior point guard Christian Cova, who averaged 4.9 points, 2.2 assists and 2.0 steals per game last season, will play the role of stabilizer for his team, while fellow football star Anthony Medina will bring energy and athleticism to the floor in his final high school season.
“Last year, we had a lot of turnovers in games,” Caden Showalter said. “This year, we really want to slow it down and make good efficient passes on the offensive end.”
Defense will be crucialGiven that offensive firepower will not likely be a problem for this year’s team, the ability of the Bluejays defense to lock down opposing offenses could determine whether Mancos is able to defend its San Juan Basin League title.
Although the Bluejays seemingly lack an elite on-the-ball defender, Cova’s ability to find his way into passing lanes and Caden Showalter’s ability to protect the rim figure to boost their team’s man-to-man and zone defenses.
A deep rotation that Knepper said will feature eight to 10 players will allow Mancos to maintain constant pressure on the ball, which could be key when the Bluejays match up against perennial San Juan Basin League powerhouse Ignacio and other familiar league foes.
“Ignacio has the reigning coach of the year, (Chris Valdez), and he has been coach of the year a lot of years in a row,” Knepper said. “Ignacio is always a tough out, and we have a lot of respect for every program in the league.”
While Mancos players and coaches were reluctant to overstate the importance of last year’s state tournament appearance, multiple individuals involved with the program quietly agreed that last season’s consecutive defeats in Denver left a hungry taste in their mouths.
“I think that last year’s state tournament was some really good experience for our team,” Connor Showalter said. “We got a look at some of the better state-level teams, and I think that will really serve us well this year.”
Tough nonconference schedulePrior to facing off against several tough San Juan Basin League foes, Mancos will embark on a difficult nonconference schedule that includes a trip to the Meeker Cowboy Shootout tournament Dec. 13 and 14.
Mancos also will hit the road to face off against Class 4A neighbor Durango High School on Dec. 16 before returning home to face Class 3A Montezuma-Cortez High School on Dec. 19.
“We’re sure looking forward to having that target on our back this year after winning the league and going to state last season,” Knepper said. “We really embrace that, and I’m just excited to get on the court and play some games and see what we need to work on.”