Jury still out

MCHS basketball coaches have mixed feelings about WSL tourney

The inaugural Western Slope League Basketball Tournaments were put together at the end of the scheduling time last spring. It was basically a last-second scheduling experiment to help add games for WSL teams.

The verdict is still out on whether the tournaments should be an annual event.

With both Moffat County High School teams earning second, the coaches have mixed feelings about the three-game weekend.

"There were nothing but positives for us," boys coach Mike LeWarne said. "We can go into the league season more prepared."

Craig Mortensen's girls team went in expecting to win.

"The loss (to Rifle) probably did us more good," he said. "I still think we are the best team in the league, and I hope that game will serve as a wake up call."

The boys were never mentioned in the pre-season articles about the WSL. Steamboat Springs, Rifle and Glenwood Springs were all counted as the top teams. The Bulldogs proved that they should be mentioned with those other teams, LeWarne said.

"Everybody looked at how young we were and dismissed us," LeWarne said. "We showed that we can still play defense."

The Bulldogs held each of its three opponents to their lowest point totals of the tournament.

"I think we saw the two best teams in the league tonight," Steamboat Springs coach Kelly Meek said after the championship game in which his Sailors defeated the Bulldogs, 42-36.

One advantage that both Moffat coaches mentioned was a chance to see all the other teams before the official WSL season was under way.

"It's going to save us some driving later," LeWarne said. "We have seen everybody, so we won't need to scout as much."

The boys had the luxury of only having to drive a couple of minutes from their houses to the high school. Mortensen said he wants explore the option of the boys and girls hosting a nonleague tournament next year.

"It would be nice to have our own tournament with some different teams," he said. "Not everybody can host a tournament, but December was tough because we were on the road the entire month."

The girls team won't have its first home game until Jan. 11, when it hosts Fruita.

LeWarne said the coaches he talked to had split opinions.

"The first three coaches I talked to were against the tournament," he said. "Then the next two thought it was a great idea."

One aspect that coaches are keeping in mind is the new set up for Class 4A playoffs. District tournaments were eliminated and qualifiers will go directly from the regular season into a 48-team bracket. The seeds will be based on record and strength of schedule.

Western Slope basketball has not been considered equal to the other leagues in Colorado when it comes to seeding. The Moffat County girls and the Rifle girls are the only two 4A teams ranked in basketball.

In comparison, the WSL had five teams ranked at one point in the football season and four teams during the volleyball season.

If the Bulldogs could either travel to or host some Front Range teams they would have more quality opponents on their schedule and could possible earn more respect during seeding.

"I talked a bit to the Rifle coach, and we both had mixed feelings," Mortensen said. "It would be nice to see what we're up against in the other parts of the state."

According to Mortensen his team had a tough time getting up for the championship game after sitting around all day in the Rifle parking lot and school.

"We were really, really flat," he said. "We didn't come out and play with any motivation."

In the fourth quarter Mortensen tried to find who did have motivation. Everybody on the team played in the final 12 minutes.

"(The starters) needed motivation from somewhere," he said. "Rifle was playing well and I think we took them for granted."

The Bulldogs were outscored 21-12 in the fourth quarter and lost 61-51.

"One thing we did learn is that Eagle Valley and Steamboat are going to be tough teams to beat," Mortensen said. "I don't think we'll have a hard time getting up for Rifle next time."

IF the Bulldogs can organize a tournament next year, LeWarne said from what he saw, they would host a more-than-satisfactory event.

"Everything was run well and it went smoothly," he said. "Our administration did a great job and all of the coaches thought so."

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