Fundamental improvement: Gunther hopes focusing on the little things will result in big gains

Kendra Barnes has bought into Palisade coach Toni Gunther’s teaching of hard work outperforming talent when talent doesn’t work hard. The Bulldogs hope to be one of the top teams in the new Western Slope League.


Class 4A Western Slope League at a Glance

Battle Mountain

Coach: Andrew Schmid (5th year)

2009-10: 0-23 (0-14)

Key players: Kendia Olivas, Sr., P; Misha Harrison, Jr., G

Outlook: The Huskies will try to build off a winless season with five returning players.


Coach: Matt Hamm (3rd year)

2009-10: 6-13 (5-9)

Key players: Skylyn Webb, Soph., G; Jenni Jones, Sr., P; Tiffany Schaaf, Sr., P

Outlook: The Panthers’ inside-outside combination of Jones and Webb could make them a contender for a state playoff berth.


Coach: Sam Bartlett (1st year)

2009-10: 12-11 (4-10)

Key players: Jazmin Zapata, Jr., G; Kayla Gagnon, Sr., P

Outlook: The Devils’ leading scorer, Zapata, and rebounder, Gagnon, return, but will need support from a new cast.


Coach: Bryan Derby (5th year)

2009-10: 13-11 (8-6), lost to Conifer 62-38 in second round of state playoffs.

Key players: Kenzi Kuhn, Sr., G; Lexie Warkentin, Jr., P; Cassidy Gaddis, Jr., G

Outlook: Kuhn, who led the Demons in scoring, has a strong supporting cast that could challenge for the league title.


Coach: Matt Ray (1st year)

2009-10: 12-13 (9-5), lost to Centaurus 56-36 in second round of state playoffs.

Key players: Annie Sadvar, Sr., P; Melissa Camilletti, Sr., G

Outlook: Eight players return for the Bulldogs, but may need time to gel under a new coach.


Coach: Toni Gunther (3rd year)

2009-10: 6-17 (6-8), lost to Evergreen 60-31 in first round of state playoffs.

Key players: Kendra Barnes, Sr., C; Olevia Shafer, Sr., F; Kailie Wallace, Sr., F; Emily Crow, Jr., G

Outlook: The Bulldogs have size and good post play with Barnes, but will rely on underclassmen to take important roles in the backcourt.


Coach: John Ameen (5th year)

2009-10: 15-8 (10-4), lost to Wheat Ridge 48-42 in second round of state playoffs.

Key players: Hannah Moore, Sr., G; Tara Spitellie, Sr., G.

Outlook: The Sailors lost their leading scorer, but have several players back with varsity experience.

Palisade High School girls basketball coach Toni Gunther has her team believing that “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”

“The kids are putting in more time and they want to see this hard work pay off,” said Gunther, who’s entering her third season as head coach. “We’ve taken that philosophy and trying to get to the next level.”

Gunther’s main target of the hard work has been improving fundamentals. Last season the Bulldogs averaged only 37 points per game and never scored more than 60 points in a game.

Palisade was held to fewer than 40 points in 13 of its 23 games.

“I think fundamentally, we weren’t where we needed to be,” Gunther said. “A big goal was to improve in that aspect and the kids have been coming in and shooting, and we are hoping to see that pay off.”

Gunther said she saw big strides from the Bulldogs’ four returning varsity players — seniors Kendra Barnes, Olevia Shafer, Kailie Wallace and junior Emily Crow.

Barnes has started since her sophomore season, and at 5-foot-8, will be a key player in the post.

“We’ve grown a lot from last year,” Barnes said. “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard, and we are living by that.”

Shafer and Wallace are both post players and Crow will play guard. Hannah Talbott is a junior who is expected to fill another guard spot.

“I think we are better all-around,” Gunther said. “The kids have been working really hard.”

The Bulldogs are stressing a strong work ethic, but the team might have more overall athletic ability to go along with the approach. The Bulldogs’ roster is full of players who participate in more than one sport, including Flannery Davis, who was an all-league soccer player as a freshman and sophomore.

Davis, a junior, will miss some time early in the season with her commitments to a traveling soccer team, but should give the Bulldogs another athletic guard once the league season begins.

“We have a lot of multi-sport athletes and we haven’t had that in the past,” Gunther said. “It’s going to help our overall strength, athleticism and endurance.”

Last season, the Bulldogs won six league games and finished fifth in the Western Slope League. Palisade did beat every league team once except Glenwood Springs and Rifle.

Rifle won the WSL with a 14-0 record last season, but is dropping down to the 3A WSL.

With the Bears out of it, the league is wide open.

“It’s a strong league, but we are going to be a lot more competitive,” Gunther said. “Our goal is we want to be in that top two.”


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