Ignacio High School and Sanford met with a berth in the state championship game on the line the last two times they faced each other.
The stakes weren’t nearly as high Friday in Whalen Gymnasium.
Both the Bobcats and Indians were attending Fort Lewis College’s annual Skyhawk summer team camp, which featured teams from the area and into New Mexico.
Sanford won by five points in a game that featured a running clock and a “let-them-play” attitude from both referees.
“It’s just a camp game. I really believe that,” Sanford head coach Rhett Larsen said. “We’re out here to improve, and Ignacio’s a great team, and when you play them you’ve got to play really well. They’re good, so that’s what you want out of summer camp. You want to play tough competition.”
Easy for a two-time defending state champion to say.
IHS head coach Chris Valdez took a more critical view of the matchup.
“It’s the same result, though. They’re great down the stretch,” he said, referring to both games the teams played at the state tournament in Pueblo the last two seasons. “They make free throws down the stretch, and they finish games. We just haven’t been doing that, especially against them.”
The Bobcats featured 80 percent of their projected starting lineup for the winter, only missing Anthony Manzanares.
Wyatt Hayes and Tucker Ward manned the guard positions, with Nick Herrera and Austin McCaw in the post.
Valdez pointed out that the fifth position, rotated among several players without much varsity experience, is the area the team needs to improve most by the winter.
“They’re still inexperienced. I’ve got a freshman kid, I’ve got two sophomores and two juniors that don’t really have varsity experience. I’ve got four kids who can really play,” he said. “Our defense is just as good as theirs, but we struggle offensively against them. We need to work better on a motion offense, dribble-drive motion offense that’s going to help us expose them.”
And camp is the perfect place to start building that.
Prior engagements not withstanding, the games are glorified scrimmages with a scoreboard.
“There’s not as much pressure in these. You can go out there and get a feel for what your team is going to be like in the upcoming season,” said Hayes, son of Cindy and Tim Hayes. “I kind of like to play more physical because I don’t like the ticky-tack fouls you get called for during the season.”
Hayes and Herrera have been coming to FLC’s camp since they were sixth-graders, so it’s a familiar place to start for the summer.
Most teams attend two camps per year – three if they can afford it.
“This is our hometown camp, so every high school team that’s fortunate to have a college in their town, you’ve got to show up to their camp and show that respect,” said Durango High School head coach Alan Batiste. “You set the foundations of what you can look forward to in November when the season starts.”
Coaches only can work on so much in a camp setting, too. They haven’t seen most of their players since the season ended in February and have to juggle with vacation schedules and multiple sport commitments.
Jeff Lehnus estimated that half of his Bayfield High School squad played in Whalen Gym on Friday, with many of them playing summer baseball.
“I can’t work on tons of execution of offenses and defenses because I don’t have everybody together in the gym. What I focus on is the development of their individual game and their skills,” he said. “We focus more on that than the execution of perfect offenses. We want to learn how to play the game, and they learn on the fly a little bit.”
Lehnus sees the camps as an opportunity to build on the success the Wolverines’ program enjoyed in the winter. BHS qualified for the final eight of the state tournament for the first time in 30 years. He wants to show the players they won’t have to wait another 30 years to go back. “We’ve got growth to do,” he said. “If you don’t have your kids in the offseason doing something, you’re in trouble.”