Winter prep season finally arrives for Basalt’s basketball and wrestling teams
Strange is a word that will likely define the winter high school sports season. But, after numerous delays and endless doubts, that season is finally here, in some fashion. It will include fewer games, more masks and a lot of empty seats, but adapting to that strangeness is certainly better than the alternative.
“When you talk to the athletes, it’s a little strange. They are kind of bummed their friends aren’t going to be there or their mom and dad aren’t going to be there,” Basalt High School Athletic Director Jason Santo said. “We are giving the seniors a final opportunity, and it comes at a cost. While it’s unfortunate we are not able to have fans there, I think the ability to be able to play a sport potentially one final time is so huge for these kids.”
Basalt’s winter sports — basketball and wrestling — will get underway this week, nearly two months after what would traditionally be the start in early December. The coronavirus pandemic has made a mess out of the high school sports calendar, from completely canceling the 2020 spring season to reshuffling the 2020-21 calendar in a way that is unrecognizable (who is ready for spring football?).
Official practices only began Jan. 18 and games were allowed to be played starting this past Monday. Fans are not allowed and basketball players must wear masks during games, even while playing.
“We have to adjust to the new normal, which is wearing a mask,” Santo said. “I think emotionally once they get on the court and are able to play … all of a sudden they will be like, ‘Huh, I forgot fans weren’t there.’ I think the games just get going.”
Here’s a quick preview of BHS basketball and wrestling as the strangeness gets underway:
Clint Hunter returns for his second season as the Longhorns’ head coach. BHS went a mere 4-15 overall last season, but did go a respectable 3-5 in a solid Class 3A Western Slope League. Three of the team’s wins came over its final seven games, including a win over rival Roaring Fork.
“The guys had a really good offseason. We got put on hold a few times from summer until now,” Hunter said. “Our seniors and juniors have done a great job leading by example. We’ve been playing good basketball in practice, but it’s hard to get a good gauge when you play against the same people over and over again.”
Notable returners this season include seniors Alonso Silva, Alberto Alvarez and Tyler Sims. Teegan Card, Rulbe Alvarado, Wish Moore and Marlon Nelson also look to be key contributors. Others to keep an eye on include Ben Limongelli, Cooper Crawford and Clayton Daniel.
Basalt opens its season Tuesday at Glenwood Springs, a tough test against a higher-classification school that is coming off a record season, although the Demons did lose many seniors off that squad. BHS then will host Gunnison on Saturday.
“We are excited to see what we can do,” Hunter said. “We have enough talent and enough skill and guys worked hard enough this offseason to where we can start to hopefully put some things together.”
This will be Year 3 for head coach Amy Contini, who enters her fourth season as a member of the BHS coaching staff. After going only 6-15 in Contini’s first season, the Longhorns improved to finish 9-10 overall a season ago.
“The seniors this year are the girls I started with,” Contini said. “We have a really great mixture of experience and of youth, and I think that together, those two things are going to bring us to a really exciting place this year.”
Headlining this year’s roster will be senior Gracie Reardon, who has led the team in scoring each of the past two seasons. Her senior counterparts at guard are Riley Dolan and Kaitlin Boothe, while the Bohannon sisters, Kate and Chandra, will start the season together inside.
Contini said this year’s team has the most talented roster in her three years. It includes some underclassmen with considerable height, a feature that’s been missing from the Longhorns the past few seasons.
The BHS girls also open their season Tuesday at Glenwood Springs before hosting Gunnison on Saturday.
“They are asking every single day how they can improve,” Contini said. “They understand the game of basketball really, really well. They pick up things we’ve been throwing at them really quickly this year. Just great attitudes. I feel like I’m more anxious for the season to get started than they are.”
Ryan Bradley, who restarted the program for the 2012-13 season, is back at the helm of BHS wrestling. The Longhorns lost senior heavyweight Ernesto Lopez, a regional champion and state qualifier, to graduation, but do return Ruben Samuelson for his senior season.
Samuelson, a Roaring Fork High School student, joined Lopez as Basalt’s other state qualifier in 2020 and came up just shy of placing. He beefed up and spent time competing in out-of-state tournaments this summer and enters as one of the top wrestlers in his weight class.
Also back this winter is another senior in Jose Castorena, who like Samuelson should be a considerable threat come state. The problem is their similarities kind of complicate things for Bradley.
“We expect a lot out of those guys,” he said. “The problem we have right now is they both weigh about the same weight. They are both right around 220 pounds, or both about 210. At some point one is going to go up, or one is going to go down, probably. We are figuring all that out here. It’s great because they have each other to wrestle with.”
Junior Ryan Zheng (152 pounds) and Ruben’s younger brother, sophomore Brady Samuelson (170 pounds) could each climb the ladder this season, while sophomore heavyweight Jose Munoz is also back and worthy of a few looks. The team currently has a roster of nine wrestlers, with four being freshmen.
BHS opens the season on the road Thursday against both Coal Ridge and Glenwood Springs.
“I got in there the first night and I wrestled and I’m 43 years old and I couldn’t believe how good it felt to just wrestle and forget about COVID for an hour and a half,” Bradley said. “I did that and I was like, ‘I can’t wait for the kids to be back in here.’”
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