The high school basketball season is underway with official practice, and the Panthers know the road to the playoffs.
That postseason road is just simply winning away from home, which can be easier said than done.
Montezuma-Cortez High School won six of eight games in its home gym last season. But only went 1-8 in true road games, as the Panthers narrowly missed the 4A Colorado state playoffs.
I think confidence is the biggest thing, M-CHS coach Eric White said about winning on the road. Its just forgetting about last year on the road and just coming out and being a better team. (If we can) come out and maybe get some road wins right off the bat in this preseason (nonconference schedule), it would help us a bunch going into league (play).
The Panthers will be on the road at preseason tournaments in Pagosa Springs, Palisade and Aztec, N.M., with a chance to knock off the host teams.
M-CHS will host the Four Corners Classic to open the season on Friday and Saturday, Dec. 2-3. The Panthers will host five regional schools in Mancos, Bayfield, Delta, and Shiprock, N.M., schools Shiprock High and Northwest. M-CHS won its tournament last year.
Its going to be nice to start off win another tournament at home, White said. We can start off with a little momentum, hopefully. We can come out a prove a point right off the bat and have the home crowd behind us.
The Panthers will be a mature team this year, suiting up seven seniors. Returning 6-foot-4 leading scorer Jay Rainer may see more time at shooting guard than in the post because of the height M-CHS has at the four and five spots this season.
I think I can be a little more effective on the outside, said Rainer, who traveled the country playing AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) basketball over the summer. I have a little more weapons on the wing. Either way, in or out, it doesnt really matter to me. As long as Im playing.
Seniors Destry Smith and Nick Haukeness look to anchor the front court. Senior Christian Chupp will look to battle for the starting point guard spot to help control the back court with Rainer. On defense, the Panthers are looking to force more turnovers by constantly using an enforcing half court press.
Were going to be a pressing team this year, Rainer said. Were going to be in really great shape. Well make sure well be in (great shape) the whole game and not making stupid tap fouls, just because were out of shape.
With the amount of senior leadership the Panthers possess, expectations have definitely been raised on the team.
Talking as players, were shooting for state, Rainer said. Were shooting for as far as we can go. (We want to) come out our first game as intense as we can. If we get the win, well just go on from there. Got to take it a game at a time, though.
Besides the preseason tourneys, M-CHS will have home games against Bayfield and San Juan (Blanding, Utah) on Dec. 13, and Jan. 10, 2012. Southwestern League play begins at 5A Grand Junction Central on Jan 13. The Panthers conclude the regular season hosting fellow 4A rival Durango on Feb. 16.
You got to take every game like it was your last, Rainer said. Most of our guys were on the team last year and theyre going to understand that. This is the last year to prove anything, especially for our seniors.
White welcomes a new assistant coach in Justin Schmitt, who will also be the head junior varsity coach. Schmitt is the former Dolores head varsity coach.
I got Justin Schmitt as my JV coach and his brother Cory is helping out, White said. Its nice. They motivate the younger guys to get with it, they push the kids. They know what theyre doing, so that helps out a lot.
The Panthers JV will play the Dolores Bears varsity on the road Dec. 6.
Reach Bobby Abplanalp at firstname.lastname@example.org.