The Dolores Bears won four games last year.
But they’ve already etched three notches in the win column this season.
And their early success is a testament to their patience.
The team graduated six from last year’s squad, and the only returners with significant varsity experience are senior Tristan Medina and junior Justin Purkat.
Medina, Purkat, senior Kale Willbanks and junior Cris Rudosky have been valuable contributors for the Bears early in the 2016-17 season. Medina and Purkat are second and third on the team in points per game, Willbanks is fourth on the team in rebounds, and Rudosky has been a vital member of the Bears backcourt.
But Dolores has gotten its biggest boost from a handful of sophomores that never saw time in a varsity game last season.
Tristen Swagerty’s stat line is ridiculous – as he leads the team in points (17.5), rebounds (13.7), assists (3.2) and blocks (2.5) per game. D.K. Smith has provided some muscle in the paint, averaging 6.7 points and 8.2 boards. All-around athlete Forest Pejsa is averaging 7.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in four games of action. And then Neil Farias, Thaddeus Lee and Phillip Hufman have given the Bears quality minutes off the bench.
The rapid rise of the group of sophomores may have surprised some. But it was all part of head coach Larry Schwartz’ plan.
Most of the Dolores sophomores have been playing together since sixth grade under the tutelage of Schwartz’ assistant Joel Balderrama, who Schwartz said has done an incredible job.
And last year, instead of just tossing the then-freshman on the junior varsity squad, Schwartz also entered them into a freshman league put together by Ignacio athletic director Rocky Cundiff.
With some league teams unable to field JV or C teams, the freshman missed out on some game opportunities. But the additional freshman league allowed them to get in extra games, and they were 12-6 in the league and also competed in a few tournaments, playing over 20 games last winter.
The extra games and time playing and growing together has paid off, as the group has made an impressive leap from freshman and JV teams to the varsity squad this year.
“That’s what we tried to get through to them last year,” said Schwartz. “And just having that extra year together to bond and come together as a team, that group just works really, really well together.”
“And there’s great things coming in the future,” he continued. “We graduated all of those seniors and this was the time to step up. Now it’s their time to run with it for the next three years.”
The Bears return from the break with an away contest against Del Norte on Saturday.