In the last drill of Wednesday's practice, the varsity and JV players on the Moffat County High School boys basketball team were on fire.
The drill, called Perfection 35, is designed to improve defensive teamwork, but the Bulldogs on offense went through a stretch of 12 consecutive made shots.
"We've got some shooters this year," coach Mike LeWarne said. "Our defense needs some work."
Defensive work is the purpose of the Perfection 35 drill. Four defenders try to stop four offensive players from scoring for 35 seconds. If the offense is fouled, gets a rebound or makes a shot the clock is reset. Once a group holds the offense for 35 seconds they rotate off defense. There wasn't a lot of rotating Wednesday.
"We're not as quick this year as last year," returning starter Derek Duran said. "We're going to have to score more points this year in the beginning, but the defense will come."
Although the Bulldogs might be slower, they are bigger. Juniors Zach Haddan, Jarrod Holmlund and Kevin Loughran are all 6 feet, 4 inches and are all projected starters.
"We're big for a Moffat County team," LeWarne said. "That's good for rebounding, but that also means at least one of those big guys is going to have to play defense on the outside."
Haddan, who saw some limited time on varsity last year will play more as a forward while Loughran and Holmlund will play inside.
"Jared worked really hard to make himself the player he is right now," LeWarne said. "Almost every open gym he was here."
Loughran averaged a little more than nine points as a sophomore last year. He and Duran, who also averaged a tad more than nine points per game, are the only Bulldogs who saw significant playing time on varsity last year.
"It's going to take awhile for our inexperienced guys to adjust to the pace of varsity," LeWarne said. "So far in practice they've shown a lot of effort to improve every day."
The Bulldog cagers will learn what they're made of fast. They open up the season with games against three quality opponents: Basalt, Summit and Evergreen.
"We wanted to make the schedule harder and that is definitely the case," the third-year head coach said. "This could be the toughest nonconference schedule we've had here in a long time."
The Bulldogs might not have a lot of varsity experience returning from last year's second-place team in the Western Slope League, but they will have depth. Seniors Hugo Quezada and Brady Virden are newcomers to the basketball team this year. LeWarne said both will see some playing time. Junior Chance Buckner can light it up from outside and could start with Duran and Haddan in the backcourt. Other guards working for varsity playing time are sophomore Evan Hertzog and juniors Derek Ellgen, Cass Thompson and Justin Kawcak.
"This team has a high skill level," LeWarne said. "The tough games early will give them some good experience. From the outside looking in people would say this is a rebuilding year, but my first year was supposed to be and we did pretty well then."
The "rebuilding year" term might be used because of how young the team is relative to the rest of the league.
"Steamboat, Glenwood, Rifle and Battle Mountain all return good players," LeWarne said. "When you return the top player in the league last year (Glenwood's Sean Flohr), your team should be the favorite."
No Western Slope team starts the season ranked in Class 4A but LeWarne said he thought this was the strongest the league had been in a while.
The Bulldogs are going to have to use their strengths well to stay near the top.
"In Derek (Duran), we have the best point guard we saw this summer," LeWarne said. "Our shooters need to compliment our size inside. We need to look inside first and establish a good inside-outside game."
The Bulldogs will try to establish some wins with a two-game opening weekend. They begin on the road at 7 p.m. Friday at Basalt. Saturday they'll have their home opener against Summit at 4 p.m.
David Pressgrove can be reached at 824-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.