Warriors hoping to make playoffs again after tough season

Warriors hoping to make playoffs again after tough season

Junior guard Jordan Eller is one of the top returning players this season for the Central Warriors, who are focused on making it back to the state basketball playoffs after a 2-20 season.



Central High School girls basketball coach Todd Dixon knows what it’s like to take a team to the Denver Coliseum, site of the state playoffs. However, after a 2-20 season last year, Dixon has an added focus on helping the Warriors get back. “It’s unbelievable,” he said. “Once you’ve been there, you’ll do anything to get there.”



QUICKREAD

FRUITA MONUMENT

League: Southwestern (5A)

Coach: Dan Schmalz (5th year)

2010-11: 15-10, lost in second round of playoffs to Fairview

Key players: Jessica Sinner, Sr., PG; Lauren Labonde, Jr., G

Outlook: The Wildcats return Labonde, their leading scorer from last season at 14 points per game. “She gets to the rim as well as anybody in the league,” Schmalz said. Aside from Labonde, Fruita, which runs a dribble-drive offense, is lacking experience. The Wildcats lost four seniors and will have to replace the graduated seniors’ 60 points per game. Three were starters, including forward Taylor Johnson, who is playing at Colorado Mesa University. Ashley Martin, who tore her ACL as a freshman and junior, played volleyball and returns to help Fruita at the post and perimeter.

PALISADE

Conference: Western Slope League (4A)

Coach: Toni Gunther (4th season)

2010-11: 8-14

Key players: Emily Crow, G, Sr.; Hannah Talbott, G, Sr.; Flannery Davis, G/F, Sr.

Outlook: After losing a pair of 5-foot-10 post players to graduation, Palisade is transitioning from a team with exceptional size to one that will rely on speed and skill. “I think what’s exciting is we are hoping to transition well, and the kids have been working really well as a team and we’re going to keep challenging and be competitive,” Gunther said. She added the Bulldogs’ strengths are depth and experience.

CENTRAL

League: Southwestern League (5A)

Coach: Todd Dixon (4th season)

2010-11: 2-20

Key players: Brittany Hoppe, PG/G, Sr.; Jordan Eller, G, Jr.; Taylor Hice, G, Sr..

Outlook: Central improved each game last season, and is rebounding from losing 10 seniors after the 2009-10 season. The Warriors have 17 players — including nine freshmen — out for its varsity and junior varsity teams. “We’re hoping to find a big foundation for the future and build on it,” Dixon said. “I like our chances in the league. We won’t be out of games in the first five minutes.”

GRAND JUNCTION

League: Southwestern League (5A)

Coach: Sam Provenza (12th season)

2010-11: 18-8, lost in quarterfinals to ThunderRidge

Key players: Jamie Derrieux, G, Sr.; Kricket Adleman, G, Sr.

Outlook: Behind Derrieux, the Tigers’ leading scorer at 15 points per game last season, and Adleman, who is returning from a torn ACL, Grand Junction will look to repeat as conference champions. Derrieux missed much of the regular season with a hand injury but returned for the stretch run. The Tigers lost three starters, including two four-year starters, to graduation. “We have great team speed and we hope to use our transition game,” Provenza said. “And that starts with rebounding, so we’ll have to play some defense.”  Since 1975, Grand Junction has won 16 conference titles.



Even from a seat in his dimly lit classroom, far removed from the Central High School gym on Tuesday, Todd Dixon is having Denver Coliseum withdrawal pains.

A 2-20 season, on the heels of three consecutive state playoff runs, will do that.

Dixon is not shaking or shivering. But as he thinks about the state playoffs, his eyes look somewhere else. To Denver. To the games when every dribble and decision and degree of ball spin can be remembered for the rest of a player’s life.

“It’s unbelievable,” Dixon says. “Once you’ve been there, you’ll do anything to get there. Ten times the suicides, 10 times the push-ups, 10 times the lay-ups.”

He pauses to absorb success.

“It feels different when you walk into the Denver Coliseum,” Dixon says, his eyes still lost. “You straighten your tie a little more. Wear your favorite belt.”

Dixon figures a team from the Southwestern or Western Slope leagues will have to win nine games to crack the playoffs.

Grand Junction is the defending league champion but lost three starters. Maybe a team that won two games like the Warriors did last season has a shot at a league title. Maybe not.

“We all have taken our turns at the top,” Grand Junction coach Sam Provenza said. “A few years back it was Fruita Monument; Montrose has had some great teams. We’ve been fortunate enough to be up there quite a few years.”

Central’s past credentials are well known to locals. There was a certain Amy Kame, a MaxPreps player of the year in Class 5A her senior season, now at the University of San Diego.

“She was the player of the game last night,” Dixon said Tuesday.

But the past is just that — the past. For Central, the memories of playing big-time basketball off I-70 have been triple-washed in blowout losses.

Stains remain.

“It was embarrassing, but even through the losses we made the best out of it,” said Central senior guard Taylor Hice. “I play because I love to.”

Rock bottom? That was the Warriors’ first SWL game against Durango.

“They beat us by 80 points,” Hice said of the 91-14 loss.

But Central improved each game, playing teams closer every week, hoping such a pattern will land them in the state playoffs again soon.

Maybe that will satisfy Dixon’s state playoff fix. Think it’s not an addiction? Before his head leaves the pillow, Dixon often thinks basketball.

“I wonder what can I do to make us better,” Dixon said.

Even Sundays.

“Not sure if I’m headed to heaven for that,” he said.

Dixon does not want to wait until the Warriors’ talent peaks next year. Or in four years. The tie needs some extra straightening. His favorite belt needs unfurled. It’s an addiction and next year can’t wait.

“The way the economy is,” Dixon said he has told his girls, “they could cancel sports next year.”


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