Racing around the practice court on the eve of its first game of the season, the Montezuma-Cortez High School basketball team appeared focused and confident.
Senior Jasen Engel, who received first team all-conference team last season, stepped into his shots with confidence, while senior point guard Obed Simental consistently found open teammates with on-target passes.
As sophomore Teagan Whiteskunk drove into the lane to score acrobatic layups, third-year head coach Mike Hall shouted encouragement to players while looking at what might be the best boys’ basketball team that M-CHS has fielded in years.
“We’ll be in the Top 3 in the Intermountain League, and I’m hoping to finish number one,” Hall said. “It will be us, Bayfield, and Alamosa. I really expect us to win the league.”
Guards look to dictate paceTo rise to the top of its league and improve on last season’s 7-14 record, M-CHS plans to lean heavily on a plethora of perimeter players who are capable of knocking down outside shots and getting out on the fast break.
Among the biggest backcourt contributors will be senior point guard Obed Simental, whose quickness has been on display at the varsity level in each of the past three years, and well-rounded sophomore shooting guard Teagan Whiteskunk.
“Obed brings a lot of experience and a lot of knowledge,” Hall said. “He has played on varsity all four years, and he knows the system now, and he’s a very solid player. (Teagan) is a very impressive shooter and an impressive all-around ball player. I’ll be excited to see what he has to offer this year.”
Joining Simental and Whiteskunk on the perimeter at certain times during games will be Engel, who averaged 13.8 points last season in games in which statistics were available. Capable of playing with his back to the basket or getting out on the fast break, Engel will draw plenty of attention from defenses while looking to help his team in a variety of ways.
“Whenever the fast break is there, we definitely need to take advantage of that,” the senior said.
“We’re not that big this year, so we need to fast break because we’re faster than a lot of teams. When we can’t get out on the break and we set up in an offense, we are disciplined enough that we can get open shots whether its layups or three’s. I think we can do it all.”
Rounding out M-CHS’s perimeter starters will be senior Kolby Waltman, whose blue-collar style and defense have earned the respect of his teammates and figure to make him a fan-favorite this season.
“We want to give 100 percent all of the time,” Waltman said. “Tough defense wins games, so we want to go out there and play tough D.”
While this year’s Panthers team features very few true post players, senior Cordell Baer will be looked upon to score on the low block and control the glass. The senior will also do his best to limit opposing big men that will attempt to take advantage of the Panthers’ lack of size.
Schedule figures to test teamIn hopes of building its RPI and preparing itself for the Class 3A State Tournament, the Panthers will open with a brutal non-conference schedule that begins at the Grand Junction Tournament on Nov. 30 with a game against Fruita Monument.
The Panthers will then play Carbon High School and Palisade High School before hitting the road to face perennial Utah powerhouse Monticello High School on Dec. 5.
League games against Alamosa and Bayfield, as well as a rivalry game against Durango on Jan. 23 figure to present the Panthers with their biggest tests however, as the team attempts to qualify for the 32-team Class 3A State Tournament for the second consecutive season.
“Our goal is to win more games than we did last year and hopefully make it back to the state playoffs,” Simental said.