Tons of experience: Grand Junction didn’t lose a single player to graduation

Elisha Jahnke drives towards the basket during a Grand Junction girls basketball team practice. Jahnke, along with Sydni Brandon and Shafer Rubalcaba, are returning starters for the Tigers who received All-SWL honors.


Grand Junction Tigers

Head coach: Sam Provenza, 14th season

Last season: 19-5, 8-2 in SWL

Key Players: Senior Elisha Jahnke (first team All-SWL); junior Sydni Brandon (first team All-SWL); senior Shafer Rubalcaba (second team All-SWL); senior Sarah Wilkinson; senior Erika Meister; senior Madi Marsh; senior Blythe Crow.

Experience, size and athleticism are three reasons expectations are soaring for the Grand Junction High School girls basketball team this season.

After not graduating a single senior from last year’s 19-5 team, the Tigers have a team with all kinds of experience.

“Our experience will be a key, every one of these kids have played some varsity,” said head coach Sam Provenza, who is in his 14th year with the Tigers. “Our senior group is going to be really strong.”

The team returns three All-Southwestern League players from last season.

Junior Sydni Brandon brings her all-around backcourt game back for the Tigers. The quick point guard made the All-SWL first team last year after averaging 10.7 points and four steals a game.

Her scoring will be key for the Tigers, but the senior experience and leadership set this team apart, with at least six seniors seeing major playing time.

When it comes to athleticism, the Tigers have plenty, including a number of players who played for the Grand Junction softball team that reached the state tournament in the fall.

Senior Elisha Jahnke was the SWL softball player of the year, and now shifts her attention to basketball where she was selected to the All-SWL first team last year, averaging 5.9 points and 4.2 rebounds a game.

Senior Shafer Rubalcaba made the All-SWL second team last season.

Provenza said they will have good size on the inside and good speed on the outside, a combination that should be hard for opponents to defend.

Sarah Wilkinson, a 6-foot senior, will be the main post threat for the Tigers.

She said the Tigers’ experience will be a huge asset for the 2013-14 season.

“I’m really excited to have all the girls back from last year. Having played together for so long, it’s a real advantage,” she said.

Senior guard Erika Meister agrees.

“We’ve had a lot of experience playing together, so going into the season we have a real advantage. It really helps the team dynamic,” she said.

Provenza said seniors Madi Marsh and Blythe Crow, and sophomore Tori Catlett will also play key roles this season.

He also said having such an experienced group back should allow the Tigers to get up to speed early in the season.

The veteran coach said the Tigers will press teams when they can, but the key to pressing is depth.

Provenza anticipates the Tigers to have good depth, but they will be without two other seniors who played last season. Injuries during the fall sports season could cause them to miss the basketball season.

Athleticism will make the Tigers a better defensive team, Provenza said.

“This group’s athleticism is as good as I’ve seen in a long, long time,” he said.

He said the Tigers are a well-rounded team, which includes a good group of shooters.

Last season, the Tigers finished second to Fruita Monument in the league with an 8-2 record. The Tigers then lost in the second round of the Class 5A playoffs.

With veteran experience, good athletes, good size, the Tigers figure to be a force in the Southwestern League and should be a team to watch once the Class 5A playoffs roll around.


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