Western Slope boys hoops state title drought reaches 10 years

No boys basketball state trophy will be coming back to the Western Slope — again.

The trophy-less drought is now a decade old.

Winning a state title in basketball is a steep challenge, regardless of whether it’s girls or boys.

Congrats to the Paonia girls for winning another championship to give its 2010 crown some company in that overly packed sports trophy case at the quaint high school.

For the boys, the last state title in any classification for a Western Slope team was back in 2007 when Grand Valley won the Class 2A title, according to CHSAANow.com archives.

Yes, Pagosa Springs won a title in 2013 but nothing in our region of Colorado since the Cardinals won it.

All coaches say the same thing about winning a state title: It takes a little luck to go along with all those other ingredients like talent and work ethic.

In some games everything has to work out perfectly or the state title dreams are toast.

This year was a prime example of that.

The Paonia boys were in control in their 2A semifinal game until the very end. A Holyoke bucket with 2.7 seconds left sent the game into overtime. The Dragons then torched Paonia’s dream of a state title with a 64-63 victory. Less than 3 seconds away from having a shot at a state title for the Eagles. Guess who won the state title? Holyoke!

In 3A, a good Coal Ridge team lost a heartbreaker at home in the Sweet 16 to the 10th seed. The 61-59 overtime loss to Sterling will leave the Titans with those inevitable “what if?” and “what might’ve been?” questions.

Guess who won the 3A title? Sterling!

Who knows what happens if Paonia and/or Coal Ridge win those games, but Holyoke and Sterling took advantage of their opportunity and won state titles.

These are the tormenting memories that never dissolve for some who lived the nightmare of the “what if.”

Paul Cain, the District 51 athletic director and a former Colorado Mesa star, can still whip up an instant memory of what it was like to lose two state title games when he played at Basalt in 1984 and ‘86. His brother, Phil, was part of the Basalt team that lost in 1988.

What if?

There have been plenty of second-place trophies earned at a few smaller schools along the way: Aspen (2010), Meeker (2009), Paonia (2008), Roaring Fork (2005-06), Rangely (2003), Cedaredge (2002) — then comes the other most recent state champion in our region before Grand Valley — De Beque at 1A in 1998 (Montezuma-Cortez won a title in 2002). Ridgway won in 1994-95 at 1A.

Let’s jump back a little further to reveal that Hotchkiss won in 1992 and Central was a champion in 1990. Back even further reveals that Fruita Monument lost in 3A in 1986 and won in 1983. Eagle Valley won in 1985, and Glenwood Springs lost in 1985 and brought titles home in 1984 and 1979.

Even wind-swept Norwood came excruciating close to a title but a one-point loss in 1983 ended that dream.

Whew, that’s a lot of boys basketball history.

Roger Walters, who recently resigned as the Rifle boys coach, led those two Roaring Fork teams to 3A runner-up finishes.

He saw just about how tough it is to win a state title and those what-if memories of the losses still kick around in his head at times.

And then comes 4A and 5A. The ultimate challenge and, dare I say, impossible dream for those Western Slope teams?

In those two classifications for both boys and girls, it’s been decades since any team has even come close.

There are many factors that come into play why Front Range teams have dominated the state hardwood.

The deeper competition pool is one. Teams on the Front Range can find more good teams to play on a consistent basis.

I believe many larger Front Range schools have more basketball-only players than the Western Slope, too. But I love when high-school athletes play multiple sports, regardless of whether they win state titles or not.

The summertime competition is another factor. Summer is the time when many players hone their skills.

In an ever-growing specialized high-school sports world, quality year-round basketball opportunities are more abundant on the Front Range.

But that’s changing and maybe the hope for a Western Slope boys and more girls basketball titles resides with the AAU basketball teams now available on the Western Slope.

In past years, the best players in our region traveled to Denver, Salt Lake City or even Albuquerque, to play summer AAU basketball.

A huge economic commitment and burden on the parents, and a summer away from home for the players.

With both boys and girls AAU summer teams now here on the Western Slope, it should show in better basketball during the winter.

But state titles will still be rare and overly special when that perfect storm of talent, work ethic and luck intersect.

A state title is a small slice of high school immortality and those players who have lived the dream can attest to that. Those Paonia girls just added their names to the lore of that small town and the Western Slope.

Everything else is just some great basketball memories and the question that will never be answered if everything went their way.

What if?


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