There are no guarantees in the sports world.
boys basketball coach Bill Benton understands this all too well. Over the previous three seasons, Lewis-Palmer has averaged 24 victories and made consecutive appearances in the Class 4A state championship game.
Despite that resume', a state championship has eluded the Rangers since the program claimed back-to-back titles in 2012-13. Even with nine seniors – including a pair of all-state selections – on the 2018-19 roster, Benton and his players know that there isn't a guarantee that this is Lewis-Palmer's year to take home the title.
"I think the advantage is they have been close twice and still come up short, so there isn't that, ‘This year will be different,'" the coach said. "We have to actually make it different, and I think they understand that. We are very close, but that last gap to close is by far the hardest."
Lewis-Palmer came into the season as the 4A favorite and has done nothing to dispel that label in the opening week. The Rangers are off to a 3-0 start despite missing two seniors – Matthew Ragsdale
and Brayden Curry
. Both are currently sidelined with injuries, but Benton hopes to have them back in a few weeks.
"We've done this without two pretty significant guys," he said. "Obviously we want both of those guys back, but I think we've approached it as ‘next man up' and got some guys some good experience."
The Rangers are deep on experience, especially with some of the team having played in two state championship games. Lewis-Palmer was the No. 2 overall seed entering the 2017 state tournament and advanced to the final game, but a 15-point deficit going into the fourth quarter against Longmont
was a bit too much to overcome in an eventual 62-59 loss.
Between the back-to-back title-game appearances and the preseason No. 1 ranking, Benton said he knows other teams are hunting for the Rangers, but said his squad needs to be hunters as well.
"We are going to get everybody's best every single night. If we don't show up, we're fighting and clawing," he said. "This group knows that – in last year's state championship we got ourselves down and clawed and fought and had an opportunity late, but it's hard to come back from 10-12 points down. All your energy goes to getting caught back up.
"The bulls-eye is that big. Our schedule doesn't have any 'just show-up' nights. I love that and I think they do too. They love this stage. They worked hard for it and embrace it."
One player who has continued to embrace that pressure is senior Joel Scott
. The 6-foot-7 standout was a first-team all-state pick as a junior after averaging 19.5 points and 7.5 rebounds. The Scott lineage runs deep at Lewis-Palmer, with three older brothers coming before Joel in the program.Benton said Joel is driven to succeed and earn a state championship.
"We talk about this with all of our guys. If you're not paying attention to the people who've come before you, then you're just not doing your job," Benton said. "Joel is obviously a prime example of that. He's had some great role models to follow in his brothers and some of his brothers' teammates.
"This will be a decade in our program (for him), and I think he's done a great job of taking bits and pieces from all of his brothers' own individual games and added that to his game."
Ragsdale averaged 16.5 points as a junior, and Ethan Forrester
appeared in each of the team's 28 games and averaged 6.8 points. Noah Baca
and Tre Mccullough
have been strong for the Rangers through the first three games this season.
Climbing to the top won't be easy, as the 4A field is loaded once again. Defending champion Longmont graduated Player of the Year Luke Johnson, but the Trojans lost only two seniors overall and are off to a 3-0 start as well.
"We've got our work cut out for us," Benton said. "I think 4A is probably as deep as it has ever been in terms of teams that can be right there and be in the final 16."
Here is a quick look at the 2018-19 boys basketball season for each of the state's five classifications:
Defending state champion: Grandview (Aurora)Overview:
Grandview experienced quite the ride last season, completing the 5A sweep with the Grandview girls
by capturing the program's first state title. The Wolves have seven seniors on their roster this winter and return leading scorer and all-state forward
, among others. … As the No. 13 seed, Smoky Hill (Aurora)
fell by one point to George Washington (Denver)
in the quarterfinals. The Buffaloes' 18 victories last season were the most since 2006-07, and all-state guard Kenny Foster
returns after averaging 17 points as a junior. … ThunderRidge (Highlands Ranch)
graduated its three leading scorers off a 25-win team that made the semifinals. Austin Holt
and Bailey Verk
combined for 41 points in the team's victory over Overland (Aurora)
in the opener. … Chaparral (Parker)
won 21 games last season but fell to Grandview in the quarterfinals. All-state forward Ronnie DeGray III is spending his senior year at a prep school in Connecticut, but the Wolverines have three players who averaged right around 11 points in Kobe Sanders
, Joseph Dalton
and Bryce Matthews
. … Rock Canyon (Highlands Ranch)
is young after graduating eight seniors, including Player of the Year Sam Masten. … Denver East
graduated all-state talent Daylen Kountz, but Kwane Marble
averaged nearly 17 points as a junior. Coach Rudy Carey won his 800th game Saturday. Class 4A
Defending state champion:
LongmontOverview: Lincoln (Denver)
was 11-13 a year ago in 5A, but the Lancers return their three leading scorers in James Felton
, Tijani Bamba
and Ty Foster
. Lincoln went 3-0 in the Denver Tip-Off Classic at Lincoln to start the season. … Luke Johnson handled the bulk of Longmont's scoring last season, but four players – Dallas Dye
, Brady Renck
, Beck Page
and Calvin Seamons
– averaged around seven points a game and made big contributions to the team's title run. … Pueblo West graduated its three leading scorers, but junior Taylor Harris
has played well in the early going. In the team's opener against Sand Creek (Colorado Springs)
, Harris scored 19 points to go along with seven rebounds, six assists and four steals. … Holy Family (Broomfield)
defeated Sierra and Golden
in the D'Evelyn/Golden Preview Classic before falling to Lewis-Palmer. The Tigers' top scoring-tandem of Tanner Baird
and Kyle Helbig
are seniors. … Cheyenne Mountain's Javonte Johnson
has helped the Indians win three of their first four games by averaging 28 points and 12.3 rebounds a game, including a 40-point, 16-rebound effort in the opener against Widefield. … Air Academy junior Tim Marshall
is averaging 21.7 points through three games and scored 32 points against Pueblo Central
Defending state champion: BayfieldOverview: Sterling
may have graduated Player of the Year Bodie Hume, but the Tigers haven't missed a beat
thus far. The team is 3-0, and senior
is averaging 15 points a game. … Defending champion Bayfield opened with a loss to Kent Denver (Englewood)
. The Wolverines have some scoring punch in seniors Hayden Farmer
and Keyon Prior
. … Seth Fuqua
averaged nearly 24 points as a junior for The Vanguard School (Colorado Springs)
, which was upset by eventual runner-up Lutheran (Parker)
in the second round. Fuqua's presence is a big boost for the Coursers, who already have a big victory over Faith Christian (Arvada)
. … Speaking of the Eagles, they lost quite a bit of offense in Benjamin Hawkins and Jonah Gardner, but Caleb Ruter
had 30 points in the loss to Vanguard. … Jaedon Bowles
was first-team all-state as a junior for Manual (Denver)
, averaging nearly 24 points a game. Bowles and Adontre Thompson
each notched double-doubles in the team's opening victory over Broomfield
. … Coal Ridge (New Castle)
was 21-3 a year ago. The Titans are off to a 3-0 start this winter, including a victory over Lutheran. Senior Kevin DiMarco
was big for Coal Ridge last season. … Platte Valley (Kersey)
, the No. 4 seed a year ago before getting upset in the first round, returns all-state senior Bryson Becker
. Becker is averaging 28 points and 12 rebounds as the Broncos are off to a 4-0 start.Class 2A
Defending state champion: YumaOverview:
Yuma went 37 years between state championships, but the Indians emerged victorious in 2A a year ago. The Indians are the team to beat this winter, with 6-8 center Jakob Chrisman
(14 points, 10.6 rebounds as a junior) a big reason why. … Crowley County (Ordway)
– final four teams in 2017 – are off to 0-2 starts. Crowley County graduated Player of the Year Bradley Carnes-Clabey, though Byers does bring back 6-10 Hayden McCuen
. … Highland (Ault)
won three of its first four games. The Huskies return leading scorer Tate Bessire
. … Limon
relied heavily on freshmen last season, and Kory Tacha
and Camden Smithburg
were two of the team's top scorers. Leading scorer Cannan Bennett
is also back as the Badgers are coming off a 1A football title. … Simla
has leading scorer Joel George
back, and Gunner Rapp
is averaging 19 points through the team's first two games. … Holly
was undefeated in the 2017-18 regular season but was upset by South Baca
in 1A regional play. Now up in 2A, the Wildcats have seven seniors this season and are looking to bounce back.Class 1A
Defending state champion: PeetzOverview: Sangre de Cristo (Mosca)
is off to a 3-0 start after sweeping three games in the Thunderbird Shootout. That included a victory over Creede
, last year's No. 1 seed in the playoffs. .... Creede graduated leading scorer Isaac Borchers, but junior Marcos Romero
is averaging 22.3 points through three games. … Defending champion Peetz moves forward without Player of the Year Logan Sircy, but Bryson Long
averaged nearly 11 points as a junior. … Brandt Vos
has helped Cornerstone Christian (Westminster)
get off to a 4-0 start, averaging 19.8 points in the process. Edward Cruz
is averaging 17 points in the same stretch. … De Beque
, which lost to Cornerstone Christian in regional play, was paced by freshmen Brennan Rigsby
and Wes Ryan
last season. Now sophomores, the duo has helped the Dragons start 2-0. … Arickaree/Woodlin
is also 2-0, and has its top scorers back as well in Kevin Ramirez
and Andy Miller
. … Front Range Baptist (Fort Collins)
, which won 21 games last season, has a big presence in Deric Woods
. The senior is averaging 17 points and 14.3 rebounds through three games.