Remember us? ’Cats rejoining 3A ranks

Ignacio's Eppie Quintana (20) powers up to the hoop against Sargent during last season's Mountain Top Classic, hosted by La Jara-based Centauri. Now a senior, Quintana's varsity experience will prove invaluable this winter – which, for the Bobcats, will begin with a return to the three-day MTC.
The Ignacio Bobcats prepare for action against Lotus School for Excellence in last season's 2A-Region IV tournament, hosted by Vail Mountain. Save for the graduated Gabe Tucson, most – if not all – of the players pictured should be returning this winter for head coach Chris Valdez (speaking at center).
Ignacio's Devante Montoya lines up a three-point attempt during regular-season action inside IHS Gymnasium versus Mancos. Now a junior, Montoya will again provide IHS this winter with backcourt scoring and improved ball-handling.
Ignacio's Gabe Cox (21) challenges Mancos' Connor Showalter for the opening tip during district-tournament play last season at Montezuma-Cortez H.S. Now a junior, Cox will again provide IHS this winter with much-needed frontcourt height as well as increased strength.
Joel Priest | Special to the Drum
Joel Priest | Special to the Drum
Joel Priest | Special to the Drum
Joel Priest | Special to the Drum

Remembering full well 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, at long last, 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. 

For when the 2022-23 Bobcats first see action Thursday night, December 1, it will again be as a 3A-level team—ending an authoritative 14-year run hooping as part of 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,” he said in a phone interview earlier 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—as SJBLers, Ignacio will be amongst some 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—you know, you’re not going to…some of these smaller schools where you can almost take a couple days off—so you always have to be on your toes.” 

“But 15 years ago, we won that league [after going 6-2 in regular-season IML play, equaling Centauri but earning first place via defeating CHS 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 to date, Valdez said the varsity will likely be comprised of nine or ten individuals by the time the new season gets underway at the Centauri-hosted, three-day Mountain Top Classic.  The ’Cats will begin Day 1 work at 8:30 p.m. against reclassified (up from 2A) 3A Olathe, with the Pirates—whom IHS did not face at last year’s event—looking to build upon a 6-15 result in ’21-22. 

The winner will then face either Dove Creek (13-12, Class 1A State Championships qualifier) or CHS’ junior-varsity crew at 4 p.m. Friday, December 2; 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 multiple Bulldogs, as of late, were on DCHS’ 8-man football State Championship roster.  “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.” 

Ranked No. 2 in this week’s Class 3A preseason poll, the hosting Falcons (24-2 in ’21-22, State Championships Runner-up after a 50-40 loss to Aspen), now-5A Durango (12-13, eliminated in the 48-team 4A State Tournament’s Round-of-32), now-3A Cedaredge (14-8, eliminated in the 32-team 2A State Tournament’s ‘Sweet 16’) and still-3A Brush (13-10, eliminated in the 32-team 3A State Tournament’s opening Round-of-32) fill out the MTC bracket’s other side. 

“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 continued.  “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),” Chris 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. 

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