Basketball Sports

Three ’Cats collect All-League recognition

Ignacio junior Triston Thompson (11) attempts to tear a rebound away from 2A Del Norte junior Logan Cestone (2) during non-league action this season inside IHS Gymnasium. Thompson was recently named Second Team All-SJBL for his contributions to the State-qualifying ’Cats.
Photo Credit: Joel Priest | Special to the Drum

Juniors McCaw, Finn also bag All-2A titles

For as much as Elijah Knepper loves being a head coach in the 2A/1A San Juan Basin League, he’s as much a fan at heart, particularly when it comes to the sort of high-energy play his Mancos Blue Jays and Ignacio presented to near-capacity crowds not once, not twice, not even three times … but on four epic occasions during both crews’ 2019-20 runs.

“There’s no love lost, I can tell you that!” he laughed, reflecting via phone Saturday afternoon, April 4, of MHS’ 2-2 mark this winter against the revitalized Bobcats. “There is that mutual respect, don’t get me wrong, but in terms of competing against each other … the side that wins, enjoys the winning.”

“And … for people that don’t get to see it and maybe think, ‘Well that’s that southwest corner’ or whatever, they’re definitely underestimating,” he continued, speaking more of the SJBL as a whole. “A lot of good players … and I’d like to think – good coaching, good play, and it’s big-time in atmosphere.”

Virtually the circuit’s undisputed champ year to year in that last department, IHS enjoyed the greatest success amongst the SJBL’s 2A-level members this season, posting an 18-5 overall record and qualifying – at MHS’ expense in the 2A-Region IV Tournament finale – for the CHSAA Class 2A State Championships in Loveland, Colo.

Unable to nominate himself nor any of his players for either SJBL Boys’ Coach-of-the-Year or Player-of-the-Year, Knepper had little hesitation voting for members of the Jays’ rivals; Mancos chose Ignacio’s Chris Valdez for COY, and junior guard Brady McCaw for POY.

“Respect, more than anything,” the eventual COY (via a 4-2-1-1 vote over, respectively, Valdez, 1A Dove Creek’s Ty Gray and 1A Ouray’s Adam Trujillo) winner explained. “I could have thrown my vote somewhere else but I felt like us and Ignacio were the two teams there at the top of the league the entire year.”

“Valdez … he’s been the Coach-of-the-Year however many years he’s been in the league, with as many league titles as he has … and rightly so; he deserved it as much as I did,” stated Knepper. “He got it last year, I got it this year; I’m sure he wasn’t too wrapped up in that.”

“How much I respect him as a coach and as a competitor. He was able to receive my vote.”

Meanwhile, Ignacio ultimately nominated Knepper and voted MHS senior center/forward Caden Showalter for POY distinction, which he earned via a 5-1-1-1 result over McCaw, 1A Nucla junior Tyler Wytulka and OHS senior Channing Green.

“Best player on the best team or best on the second-best, whatever it was,” Knepper said, alluding to the sides’ two-game regular-season split atop the standings (MHS held the point-differential tiebreaker). “McCaw deserved recognition somehow, someway.”

All told, McCaw was held scoreless just once – by, appropriately, Mancos in the teams’ second regular-season showdown – during the Bobcats’ 23 outings, and posted a solid 16 double-digit efforts en route to totaling 277 points, making for an average of slightly more than 12 per game. Showing improvement in just about every aspect of a two-way player, McCaw was also one of 31 Honorable Mention All-2A recipients following the nomination/voting processes.

Another was First Team All-SJBL junior Bryce Finn. A forward/center feared for his ability to shoot the three-pointer as well as sneakily operate in the paint, Finn logged 13 double-digit efforts (he, too, was blanked just once) and racked up 239 points, averaging 10.4 per contest.

That figure rose to 12.5 versus MHS, as he and McCaw each totaled 50 points – including separate season-high outputs of 24 points – against the talented Jays, who finished 19-4.

“They brung confidence to everybody,” observed junior guard Triston Thompson, a Second Team All-SJBL choice who, despite missing five games, still registered 159 points (8.8 ppg) and was never held scoreless while recording six efforts of 10-plus points.

“Bryce, sometimes, isn’t that strong so that’s why we’ve gone with Ocean (senior center/forward Hunter; 9.4 ppg in 19 games played) in the high post and Bryce hitting from in the corners,” Valdez noted. “Speed will outlast post play as long as you utilize it properly – we tried to open the floor up, penetrate the gaps and kick, so that it would negate (opponents’) big guys and make them have to jump out and help.”

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