Wildcats on journey to turn season around
The Fruita Monument High School boys basketball season is at a crossroads.
Down one road, the Wildcats put together a perfect 7-0 run down the stretch that leads them into the playoffs. The other road that leaves the Wildcats at home with a losing season for the first time since 1993.
With seven games remaining, the Wildcats are 4-10, 0-3 in the Southwestern League.
They’re ready to see which road they travel.
“I think the first thing you have to deal with is the frustration of a season that you didn’t expect happening,” Fruita Monument coach Dave Fox said. “It has been difficult for all of us but I don’t want anyone to quit, and I don’t plan on quitting.”
The Wildcats face a challenge that many high school teams run into as the season winds down: overcoming a rough patch to salvage the season and make the playoffs.
“We have to look at what has happened and start coming out with a new attitude,” Fruita’s Mike Perry said. “We have to work hard for these next seven games.”
What has happened with the Wildcats? For starters, they’re on a five-game losing streak, including falling into an 0-3 league start.
The Wildcats’ main struggle has been offensive. In Fruita Monument’s first three league games against Central, Montezuma-Cortez and Durango, the Wildcats averaged 39 points.
“We can (score) in our own gym in practice but it is really about performing under the lights with the crowd watching,” Perry said. “Our problem has been mostly offense.”
Fox said the solution might be a player getting some confidence in a game and the rest of the team catching on.
“I think someone making three or four shots in a row will help because it does get contagious,” Fox said. “I think shooting is confidence, shooting and putting (in golf) are a lot alike. Some days you putt really well when you are confident, and I know we can shoot better than we are.
“We shot well in Durango, we just didn’t get enough shots. But there are a lot of things, and when you are 4-10, it’s not only one thing. There is usually a mixture of things going bad, so we will keep working on things and hopefully the kids will get better.”
It hasn’t been lack of players for the Wildcats. Although Fruita wasn’t blessed with a lot of returning varsity experience, it has talent, beginning with returning all-league post player Alex Mende.
The 6-foot-3 Mende has played well at times this season but found himself mired in the Wildcats’ offensive slump, scoring only six points against Central and eight against Durango. In the Wildcats’ other 12 games, Mende has averaged more than 17 points.
One of the Wildcats’ most emotional players, Mende said he refuses to let this season continue as it is.
“It has been tough, but I don’t have a quit bone in my body,” Mende said. “ I won’t ever quit.
We have been in every game and we just have to figure out how to win.”
Mende and Perry are two of the Wildcats’ six seniors.
Chance Muller, Brett Nankervis, Scott Miller and Rex Clemons are all solid players, but Fox said if the losing trend doesn’t change, he might make a few changes to the team’s lineup.
“I like these seniors, but I think they need to start realizing that there comes a point in the year when you are sitting at the bottom of the SWL looking up and you have to start making something happen pretty fast,” Fox said, “or I have to start playing some younger kids. I am going to put that challenge to them and see if they will come out and play harder.”
Losing isn’t something this group is used to. Fox, who has coached nearly almost every sport at Fruita Monument in his 26 years, said he has never had a season like this in basketball and had only one similar season in baseball.
The Wildcats have made the basketball playoffs the past three seasons.
“The three years I have been here I haven’t had a losing season,” Perry said. “I am not used to losing and I don’t like losing, so this is very strange to me.”
Fruita will have to run the table to finish 11-10, which the players and coach insist is possible.
“In the SWL, a lot of crazy things can happen, “ Fox said. “The league is balanced, Central and Junction are thought to be the favorites. You saw a chink in Central’s armor (with a loss
to Montezuma-Cortez) and Durango gave Junction a good game, so I don’t think there is any reason to look at it as the season is over.”
The Wildcats’ next opportunity to break the losing skid couldn’t come at a better time.
Fruita hosts rival Grand Junction on Friday in the first of five straight home games. The Wildcats had only two games in their home gym through the first six weeks of the season.
“Junction is my favorite team to play,” Mende said. “You always look forward to playing those guys.”