Running to a new level

Team hopes to improve on Sweet 16 appearance

By now, Moffat County girls basketball coach Craig Mortensen may have the final game of last season memorized.

In the 62-48 loss to Mullen in the Class 4A's Sweet 16, the Bulldogs broke down defensively and missed shots they regularly made before the post season.

"As the year went on, we slipped fundamentally," Mortensen said. "That's a coaching error that may have been in part that we didn't have enough close games."

Going into the postseason, the Bulldogs, who finished 22-2, played in two close games, a loss to Rifle before Christmas break and a 52-50 win against Steamboat Springs, which wasn't as close as the score indicated.

This year's team has set the goal of making it farther into the postseason.

First up, though, is the competition against the familiar foe of the Western Slope League.

By winning five of the past six league titles, the girls have set the standard of excellence in the league. This year's team plans to raise the bar even more.

"If we play well, these girls will have a good season," Mortensen said. "We have the right tools."

The Bulldogs have back seven players who spent significant time on varsity last year. That includes four players (seniors Mari Katherine Raftopoulos, Cortney Grandbouche and Jessica Uecker and sophomore Angie Charchalis) who were starters at one point last year.

In addition to that are four other talented players in juniors Cayla Maneotis and Ashleigh Mann as well as sophomores Jorgiea Raftopoulos and Markie Workman.

The combination of those eight makes for a versatile Bulldog team.

Put post players Maneotis, Moffat's best shot blocker since 1988 (when statistics were first taken) and Workman in the lineup, and it's a tall, physical team that will make getting a shot in a half-court set hard for opponents. Go to a more guard-oriented lineup, and it's a team that can play a fast-paced run-and-gun pace.

"We can throw different looks at teams," Mortensen said. "We can put speed or size."

That approach is different from last year when All-State post player Brandie Telfer was the Bulldogs' go-to girl on offense.

This year, Mortensen expects the scoring to be more spread out.

"Everybody knew we were going to go to Brandie last year, but very few stopped her," he said. "I think the scoring will be more dispersed this year."

Raftopoulos was the team's second-leading scorer last year with 10.7 points a game. She said she didn't expect to have to pick up the 16 points that Telfer scored a game last year.

"We're all capable of scoring," she said. "I think our outside game will be better and faster this year. We also have scorers inside."

The early focus for the versatile team has come out of the tape from the Mullen game.

"We didn't play good defense against Mullen," Uecker said. "Mort showed us the tape and pointed out what we needed to do better this year."

To reach the goal of improving on last year's Sweet 16 appearance Mortensen hopes the team will be challenged more.

"We need closer games and not close games because we're playing down to their level," he said.

Before Christmas break, the Bulldogs will play a traditionally good Evergreen team, as well as Class 5A Fruita-Monument. They also will play in a tournament in Utah and Wyoming.

"I hope our league is better," Mortensen said. "Steamboat (Springs), Glenwood (Springs) and Rifle should be improved this year."

The Bulldogs start the season with the annual trip to the Uintah High School tournament in Vernal, Utah. They'll open the season with a game against Logan, Utah.

"Logan is supposed to be a good team," Mortensen said. "The preseason should be good for us."

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