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Remember us? ’Cats rejoining 3A ranks

Valdez’s team an IML member again
Seen during junior-varsity action last season at Del Norte, now-sophomore Coty Webb will help lead Ignacio's varsity bench brigade in the 2022-23 season. (Joel Priest/Special to the Herald)

Remembering the most recent game Ignacio’s boys played as a Colorado High School Activities Association Class 3A basketball program, longtime head coach Chris Valdez sounded excited over the fact that IHS can set about avenging a season-ending 60-47 home loss on March 7, 2008, to Gilcrest-based Valley in the state tournament’s round of 32.

When the 2022-23 Bobcats start play Thursday, it will again be as a 3A-level team – ending a 14-year run in the 2A/1A San Juan Basin League.

“You know, ever since we got the announcement late last year …. I think we can be competitive if we can get the kids on the right page,” Valdez said in a phone interview this week. “But you always have to be ready for a battle every single night, and as coaches we’re going to have to be preparing to … adjust for every team – teams we haven’t seen in the last 14 years!”

After amassing a 268-67 overall record – including last winter’s 16-7 mark – Ignacio will be among former brethren in the 4A/3A Intermountain, including now-4A Pagosa Springs and Alamosa, as well as 3A holdovers Bayfield, Centauri and Montezuma-Cortez. Postseason play will be interesting, with CHSAA designating Southern Peaks Leaguers Crested Butte to be part of a district comprised of IHS (reclassified to 3A this year for basketball only), BHS, CHS and M-CHS.

“We were in there before … and there’s a couple things that are different, obviously,” said Valdez. “You’re going to have more competition day in and day out … so you always have to be on your toes.”

“But 15 years ago, we won that league (going 6-2 and earning first place by beating Centauri twice, IHS then downed Monte Vista 55-45 in the IML District Tournament championship) so it’s not like we’re scared to be in there!”

With a coach-estimated 25 players in preseason practices, Valdez said the varsity will likely be composed of nine or 10 individuals by the time the season gets underway at the three-day Mountain Top Classic at Centauri. The ’Cats will begin Day 1 work at 8:30 p.m. against reclassified (up from 2A) 3A Olathe.

The winner will then face either Dove Creek or CHS’ junior-varsity crew at 4 p.m. Friday; the IHS-OHS loser will face the DCHS-CHS JV loser at 1 p.m.

“They’re some strong kids, Dove Creek,” Valdez said, acknowledging the fact that multiple Bulldogs were on Dove Creek’s state championship eight-man football team. “But if we get by Olathe and get by Dove Creek … it lines us up with probably Centauri or Durango on championship day. You never like to look ahead, but that’s what we’re hoping for.”

The bracket also includes the hosting Falcons (24-2 in ’21-22, state runners-up after a 50-40 loss to Aspen), now-5A Durango, now-3A Cedaredge and still-3A Brush.

Both Durango’s girls and boys will begin the tournament against Cedaredge – the girls at 4 p.m. Thursday and the boys at 5:30 p.m. With the addition of Class 6A in basketball, Durango also moved up a classification, from 4A to 5A. Durango’s league foes, however, all moved up as well, so DHS will still play Fruita Monument, Grand Junction, Grand Junction Central and Montrose in the now 5A/6A Southwestern League. Durango’s girls were scheduled to begin their season Tuesday against Farmington.

“I think our practices are going pretty good. We’re starting to figure out the pecking order – who’s going to make the varsity team – and where everybody’s lining up,” said Valdez, to be assisted in ’22-23 by JV coach Damon White Thunder and C-team mentor Travis Nanaeto, who guided the Lady Bobcats’ C last season.

“It’s still kind of a young team, yet they all got a lot of experience last year because a lot of them had to play – which is good,” he said. “Leadership … we’re a little low on that with just a couple seniors, but we’ll deal with that as it comes.”

Seniors Eppie Quintana and Dylan McCaw return to anchor the backcourt and frontcourt, respectively. Juniors Devante Montoya and Phillip Quintana also return for the guard-blessed Bobcats, with ’21-22 JV regular Coty Webb, a sophomore, said to be in the mix for a roster spot along with freshmen Trace Crane and Ambrose Valdez.

“Everybody has stepped up a notch, which they have to because we’ve got to make up 20 points a game – and 10 rebounds – that we lost with (the graduated) Gabe (Tucson),” Valdez said, also emphasizing the return of post players Gabe Cox, a junior, and Charlie Pargin, a sophomore.

Ignacio’s 2021-22 season ended with a 52-41 loss to Aurora-based Lotus School for Excellence in the Region IV semifinals – the Class 2A State Tournament’s opening round of 32.