Palisade boys basketball team will lean on its 'D' this year
It’s the basketball team with a 6-foot-2 center and football players throughout the lineup.
In a sport that rewards finesse, Palisade High School’s boys basketball team will emphasize its strengths: defense, rebounding and a ball-rotating offense.
Brian Tafel, an assistant for three years and junior varsity coach last season, will be the head coach of the Bulldogs’ boys basketball team that last season went 18-7, made it to the second round of the Class 4A state basketball playoffs and lost several key seniors.
Gone are Caleb Hall, a 3-point threat, defensive specialists Kyle Monger and Connor Whaley, Jered Kusal, who scored 4.6 points per game off the bench, and Kane Gunther, the Bulldogs’ floor leader and leading scorer at 17.2 points per game. Gunther is redshirting this season at Colorado Mesa University.
The Bulldogs will run the same system that utilizes defensive frenzy and transition baskets. And they have promoted some players from a junior varsity team that was 17-2 under Tafel.
Palisade has the honor of opening its season against No. 1-ranked Lewis-Palmer, the returning Class 4A state champion, in the Central High School Warrior Challenge at 5 p.m. today.
The Bulldogs open Western Slope League play at home against Battle Mountain at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 13.
“They all know me,” said Tafel, who graduated from Longmont High School and played basketball at Colorado College. “It’s not much of a change. We really put in a lot of stuff last year and we’ll be running and moving forward.”
The Bulldogs have one returning starter: 6-2 Jesus Aguirre at center. What Aguirre lacks in height he makes up for in footwork, speed and scrappiness.
“He’s really stepped in as a senior leader for us,” Tafel said. “Again, we like unselfish kids. He wants what’s best for the team. And we’re really going to count on him to be a leader down low.”
Another returning starter is 6-foot guard Luke McLean, the Bulldogs’ quarterback last fall.
Zach Shurden is a possible starter at off-guard. The senior came off the bench last season.
“He had a real good summer,” Tafel said.
Caden Woods, a senior linebacker and fullback in football, will provide toughness and leadership.
Daniel Ness, a sophomore who saw varsity action in 12 games last season, will be the Bulldogs’ starting point guard.
Junior Jacob Bollinger will see first-time varsity experience. The Bulldogs’ tallest player at 6-3 can play inside and out, Tafel said.
Another likely starter is Zach Marengo as a post player. Marengo was the football team’s center.
How tough will Palisade be?
During the football season, Bulldogs coach John Arledge puts the three players he determines to be the toughest at quarterback, fullback and center. That would be McLean, Woods and Marengo.
“They’re real tough and aggressive,” Tafel said.
Tafel said the Bulldogs’ biggest questions, however, are how the new players will fit into their new roles with the departure of four senior starters.
And this: Can toughness replace experience?