For the first time since the 2008-2009 season, the Montezuma-Cortez boys basketball team is heading to the Colorado High School State Tournament.
That year, the Panthers finished 18-9-1 under head coach Eric White before falling in the second round of the state tourney to Pueblo West. Since then, they’ve been in a playoff drought and haven’t recorded double-digit wins since the 2011-2012 campaign.
M-CHS finished this season, head coach Mike Hall’s third at the helm, with a 7-13 record overall and 4-6 in the Panthers’ first year in the Class 3A Intermountain League. But their league schedule – which included three other Class 3A tournament teams in Bayfield, Alamosa and Pagosa Springs, and non-conference games against No. 9 seed Basalt, Class 4A’s No. 4 seed in Durango and a few other Class 4A programs – was strong enough to earn them the No. 31 RPI ranking and secure their spot on the bracket.
“Last year when we started to make our schedule with our athletic director, I told them I wanted to play a lot of those Grand Junction schools again because I wanted my kids to be able to play at that kind of level,” Hall said. “And then you get into our league, which is a tough league where you’ve got to travel and spend the night, and that’s hard. It’s hard on a high school kid, but I think it prepared us very well, especially now that we have to travel and stay the night. I think my kids are ready for that type of experience.”
M-CHS dropped its district tournament game to Centauri last week, but Hall said that he hopes it helped his team get rid of some nervousness and that he’s confident in his squad.
“We had some nerves in that Centauri game, knowing that it was the first time these boys have made it into any type of playoff game, and they were pretty nervous,” he said. “But hopefully they got rid of those nerves and understand now what a playoff game is, and I feel really confident that they’re going to go in ready to play.”
As the No. 31 seed out of 32 teams, and the Panthers will be forced to hit the road in a matchup against No. 2 seed Manitou Springs Mustangs (20-2, 10-1 Tri-Peaks League) set for Friday, March 3 at 7:30 p.m.
And while on paper it may appear that Manitou Springs has an advantage – as the No. 2 team hosting No. 31 – Hall believes that the Panthers’ rigorous schedule has prepared them to go toe to toe with any team in the bracket.
“I feel confident talking to other coaches around the state,” he said. “Knowing our league puts four guys into the state tournament, that shows you that it’s a tough league. And talking to other guys, they’re saying that we can compete with these schools.”