Wildcats putting print on basketball tradition

Fruita Monument High School’s Sarah Hensley. Photo by Danielle Stomberg

The Fruita Monument High School girls basketball team hasn’t exactly had success on the court for the better part of this decade.

Since 2002, the Fruita girls basketball team is 41-97 and 11-59 in the Southwestern League.

Fruita finished 10-10 and 5-5 in 2004, but has been under .500 every season other than that.

The Wildcats have made the playoffs five times during the span, but made quick exits in the first round each time.

Second year coach Dan Schmalz is determined to change the culture of Fruita girls basketball, and so far he is on his way.

Heading into today’s game with Montrose, the Wildcats are 8-10 and 4-4 in the Southwestern League and are looking to lock up a playoff spot for the second straight season.

“Last year we made it, but before that, they hadn’t had a lot of success,” Schmalz said. “So we are trying to get there and build to where we expect to get to the playoffs every year rather than hope to get there.”

This season, besides being right around the .500 mark in both the conference and overall, the Wildcats have seen other signs of improvement. A trend in previous Wildcats’ seasons has been to drop at least four games in a row late in the season, but this year Fruita has been able to pull out close games, minimizing the chance a losing streak could occur down the stretch.

The Wildcats had two straight narrow victories over Montezuma-Cortez and Durango earlier this month, and Schmalz said that was an obvious sign the team is getting better.

“We have grown,” Schmalz said. “Last weekend we played in two tight games and won them both. Last year we would play tight games and lose, and I don’t know if it was because we didn’t have the confidence or what.”

Another way to improve a program is to get more talent onto the court. And this year, the Wildcats have been winning more games with a roster with only two seniors, Mary McGee and Brooke Janowitz.

“We have 11 underclassmen on the varsity, and they will all be letter winners,” Schmalz said.

“Next year we should be a really experienced team and understand what I expect from practice and games.”

The team will miss the on-court leadership of McGee but will have its two top scorers back as junior guard Sarah Hensley returns along with sophomore 5-foot-11 post player Taylor Johnson. Hensley is averaging 8.5 points per game and has hit 33 3-pointers this season.

Johnson is the team’s overall leading scorer at 11.6 points per game.

Hensley said she wants to see the Wildcats make a run this season, but knows what it will take to make a big improvement for next season.

“We want to make it as far as we can,” Hensley said. “But we need to start putting in a lot more summer work, and come together as a team.”

With two games left this season, the Wildcats face a Montrose team that defeated them by 18 in the first match-up before facing Grand Junction. Fruita defeated the Tigers 46-41 in the rivals’ first meeting.

“Montrose plays a unique style where they force you to make shots,” Schmalz said. “If we can limit turnovers and play good defense we will be OK against both teams.”

Schmalz added he feels like his team is on the bubble and would like to win at least one more game to feel better about a spot in the playoffs.

“Last season we made it with seven wins, so if we can get one more, we would probably be in,” Schmalz said. “But we need to get one more to at least feel slightly comfortable about it.”


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