For Durango High School girls basketball head coach Tim Fitzpatrick, this is another season to prove doubters wrong and get a middle-of-the-pack program to continue to reach for big goals.
Durango is coming off of an 11-13 season and 3-5 record in a bruising 5A/4A Southwestern League. The Demons managed to make the playoffs after they rattled off four consecutive victories at the end of the regular season to reach the Colorado High School Activities Association’s Class 4A first round. But, at home, the Demons would lose in the first round to Falcon.
DHS lost a lot of scoring, as three of its top four scorers from last season graduated, but this year’s bunch will be defined by its athleticism, heart and scrappiness on the defensive end.
DHS junior Maddy McManus is the team’s returning leading scorer. She averaged 5.5 points per game last season. Senior guard Emma Fitzgerald and sophomore post player Sydney Flores return as well. Jael Larson and Breanna Wolf contributed off the bench a year ago, as Larson averaged 2.7 rebounds per game and Wolf grabbed two per game.
For the second consecutive season, rebounding and outworking their opponents will be the name of the game, as the Demons do not have much height.
“This group is going to play hard,” said Fitzpatrick. “They’re a group that’s going to physically be ready to play. No one is ever going to question their effort. We’re playing smart and are enjoying playing with each other. We have eight returners from last year’s team and have good depth. It’s going to be a fun group to work with.”
Fitzpatrick’s answer to the height dilemma is going to be through his team’s speed. He said the Demons will be ready to push the pace on offense, with a few “pressure packages” to force opposing defenses into mistakes.
The Demons do return a strong defense. They gave up only 34.6 points per game last season. There’s more good news on the defensive side of the ball, as their top three leaders in steals all return. Fitzgerald and McManus led the way with 2.1 steals per game, while junior Kyle Rowland returned after she averaged 1.2 per game.
“I think that this year is different because a lot of the people on our team are really athletic in comparison to years before when we did have height,” Fitzgerald said. “Our biggest strength is that we’re so athletic and our effort is always there. We’re always there showing up, putting our best in at all times, and I think that will especially carry over to our defense.”
Durango will open its schedule with two tough tournaments at Centauri High School this weekend, as well as Pueblo County’s Holiday Tournament next weekend, where they will face preseason No. 2 Pueblo West and No. 3 Air Academy. DHS will have its first home game of the season Dec. 16 against Mancos.
The Demons have an always tough schedule when league play arrives, as Fruita Monument and Montrose are expected to contend for the league title. The Wildcats received six points in the preseason Class 5A poll, which put them in 14th, while the Indians just missed out on a top-10 ranking, as they received 30 points and are 11th in 4A.
“We’ll be tested early,” Fitzpatrick said. “We’re trying to figure out who we are. We are going to try and play a little bit quicker than we have in the past. We can do it, they just haven’t really done a lot of it yet. So, we’re going to probably make a lot of mistakes early on, but hopefully by the time the league season rolls around, we’ll be looking good.”
Larson said the group is very close on and off the court, and their strong chemistry will be needed in times of adversity.
“This group of girls is really different than a lot of the other years,” Larson said. “We’re so much closer than the other years, and we all really care about each other, winning and playing as a whole. This season is going to be tough. We’re heading to some really good tournaments soon, and we’re going to have to rely on each other.”
The Demons will open their season against Sargent at 5 p.m. Thursday at the Centauri Mountain Top Tournament. DHS will round out the weekend with clashes against Centauri on Friday and Montezuma-Cortez on Saturday.