Head coach Mike Hall has high hopes entering his third season at the helm of the Montezuma-Cortez boys basketball team.
Hall accrued a 10-31 record in his first two seasons with the Panthers, and although the team lost six players from last year’s squad to graduation, it returns a solid group of upperclassmen.
“Braden Keetch, Juan Arballo and Coby Baer will be contributing seniors for sure,” Hall said. “But I’m hoping Jasen (Engel) and Daniel (Fernandez) step up and take more of a leadership role. They’ve been through the program now for three years at the varsity level, so they should be able to do it.”
Engel, Fernandez and Obed Simental are all juniors that will likely fill the majority of minutes at the team’s guard positions. And after playing in Hall’s system and steadily improving the past two seasons, the trio may be the best backcourt in the Intermountain League this year.
“I don’t think that’s a stretch at all, and I think a lot of the league feels the same way,” Hall said. “We played with them this summer with the league, and those are the three kids they all talked about. I don’t think it’s a stretch at all to say that, and we’ve got Quanah Casey coming back in now as a reserve, that’s a tough backcourt right there.”
Kolby Waltman, who Hall called “a defensive freak,” will also see time in the Panthers backcourt. And then returning seniors Baer, Juan Arballo and Keetch, sophomore Cordell Baer, and transfer junior Cole Veach will make up the team’s inside presence.
The Cortez bigs may not be dominant presences inside, but they’re all athletic and versatile and should mesh well with the system Hall plans to install.
“We’re small, obviously,” he said. “So we’re going to be fast this year and we’re going to run and we’re going to utilize all these guards that we have.”
M-CHS finished 4-16 last year and was 1-9 in the 4A/5A Southwestern League. However, after reclassifying, the Panthers will now play in the Class 3A Intermountain League.
The step down ensures a new schedule, but it won’t necessarily be an easier one.
The Intermountain League sent three teams to the Class 3A State Tournament last year in Pagosa Springs, Bayfield and Alamosa. And Alamosa returns its leading scorer after finishing second in the state last season.
Still, after two years of establishing his system and culture, Hall is optimistic entering the 2016-17 campaign alongside assistant coaches Tim Robinson and Dan Rapp and volunteer assistant Scott McKenzie.
He said the goal is to finish with a winning record, and that his players have their eyes on a state tournament appearance. The Panthers finished in the basement of the Southwestern League the past two years, but entering their first season in the Intermountain League, Hall is excited to try and change that.
“I’m hoping to be at the top of the league, and I don’t see there being any reason not to be,” he said. “Alamosa is going to be tough. They’re very tough and they’re coming out of second place at the state tournament, so they’re going to compete. We played them this summer and it was always right down to the wire games, so I think us and Alamosa should be at the top of the league.”
M-CHS opens its 2016-17 season at the Grand Junction Central Tournament, beginning Thursday, Dec. 1.