Fresh off a winning season and stocked with talented players at nearly every position, the Dolores High School basketball team appears primed for a run to the regional tournament and possibly state.
Knowing that preseason expectations can create unnecessary pressure, however, veteran head coach Larry Schwartz has tempered expectations while recognizing that this year’s team might be one of the most talented that he has coached.
“Our first goal is to attain what we did last season,” said Schwartz. We know we have potential though. We have a veteran team coming back, and we have a couple of key players coming back from injuries. We want to get out of Districts and into regionals.”
Seniors lead talented backcourtAmong the players set to play a significant role on this year’s team is senior guard Justin Purkat, who averaged 8.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 2.8 assists per game last season and will begin this season as his team’s captain and emotional leader.
“We look forward to (Purkat) having an outstanding year,” Schwartz said. “He shot the ball very well over the summer, and he has one of the prettiest jump shots in the league. He’s also our team leader and the guy who gets everything going for us.”
Complementing Purkat on the outside will be senior Cristoffer Rudosky, who emerged as a key contributor last season thanks to his ability to defend multiple positions and knock down big shots in crucial moments.
Other guards likely to play significant minutes for Dolores will be Thaddeus Lee and Phillip Huffman, while freshmen William Swagerty and Jeffery Crites will look to earn minutes off of the bench.
“We have so many guys who can handle the ball, so we don’t run a true point guard,” said Schwartz. “It will be point guard by committee this season. We’re very deep at the guard positions, though, and I expect that we’ll be difficult to defend on the outside.”
All-conference stars in frontcourtComplementing the Bears’ plethora of perimeter players will be several sizable players down low, including junior Tristen Swagerty, who averaged a team-high 16.2 points and 13.3 points last season and was named to the San Juan Basin League’s all-conference team.
Known for his midrange jump shot and ability to score from multiple spots in the paint, Swagerty will be joined by junior bruiser Dakota Smith, who consistently outmuscled opposing forwards last season en route to 9.6 points and 6.3 rebounds per game.
Junior Neil Farias and senior Forest Pejsa will split time at the center position and provide the Bears with bulk in the middle while quickly emerging sophomore Trey Seekins and senior Josh Corbitt will look to earn minutes.
“Our big guys, Tristan Swagerty and Dakota Smith, had outstanding summers and played a ton of basketball,” Schwartz said. “(Pejsa) is incredibly tough, and (Seekins and Corbitt) have had really good showings the last few weeks.”
League presents competitionStanding between the Dolores and its goals will be several tough opponents out of the San Juan Basin League, which looks as strong as it has in several years.
Headlining the Bears’ league opponents will be the Ignacio High School, which has won 10n straight SJBL titles and perennially ranks as one of the top Class 2A teams in the state. Norwood, Telluride, and Mancos also figure to challenge Dolores throughout its season.
“Ignacio has won the league 10 years straight, so until someone knocks them out, they’re the team to beat,” Schwartz said. “Norwood and Telluride are always tough, and Mancos has a new coach and a new defensive philosophy. The league is going to be pretty tough.”
Dolores will open its season with three games at the Thunderbird Classic in Mosca, Colorado, which will take place Nov. 30 – Dec. 2. The Bears will open against Cheraw on Nov. 30 before playing games against yet-to-be determined opponents on Dec. 1 and Dec. 2.
While Schwartz did not make a prediction regarding how his team might fair at its opening season tournament, he emphasized that playing the Bears will be no picnic this season.
“We can take it inside any given day and we can take it outside too,” said the longtime Dolores coach. “Opponents are going to have to pick their poison.”