New head coach Mark Carlson, seniors expect good energy for Moffat County boys hoops
For the Craig Press
The oldest members of the Moffat County High School boys basketball program have seen multiple head coaches in their time on the court, but the latest man to take the helm is by no means a stranger to the Bulldogs.
Mark Carlson is about to start his inaugural season as the head of the hoops teams, officially hired this summer to oversee the program.
Mark served as an assistant under the past two head coaches: predecessor Steve Maneotis and Eric Hamilton, the latter of whom is currently running the girls team.
Mark has also coached basketball players at Craig Middle School, many of whom are now at the high school level, as well as youth teams in other sports.
“I think that’s huge. I told the guys, 95 percent of the team, I’ve coached in some capacity up until now. Having that rapport is important. Familiarity with them is key. They know how I want things, they know what to expect from me, so that makes it easier to coach,” Carlson said. “Parks and Rec, Doak Walker, baseball, I’ve known these guys forever. That’s the biggest reason I put in for the job is because of those relationships with the kids.”
While he doesn’t plan to change things up radically, Carlson does have an emphasis heading into this season, namely, effort and attitude.
“They have tons of talent, we have size, speed, but we’ve gotta get that effort and attitude and positivity. That’s what we want this year from top to bottom: players, coaches, fans,” he said. “We’re gonna put a big emphasis on running. We want to score points, and I love high-flying, up-and-down, fast-paced games. I want to get out and push the ball more than we have in the past, and the big thing is I want to simplify the offense and let these guys play and run the floor. If we can get them up and down the floor, I think we’ll be successful.”
MCHS boys had a roller coaster of a season for the 2020-21 school year, starting with three straight wins followed by four consecutive defeats. After another three W’s in a row, a trio of losses to round out the schedule hit players hard as they went 6-7 overall and 2-4 in the 3A Western Slope League.
“We had some attitude issues that kind of derailed some things, but if we can stay positive it trickles down. It starts with me being positive and being a leader and pushing them,” Carlson said.
Amid COVID concerns, the truncated season did not include the district tournament format, and that is something Carlson looks forward to seeing again. After finishing as league and district champions in 2015, Bulldog boys have not qualified for the latter rounds of the district tourney since.
“These seniors have never been in the district tournament, and to me that’s not acceptable. That’s goal number one, to make that tournament, win a league championship, have a winning season. There’s too much talent on this team to not do that,” Carlson said.
Among the five seniors on the squad is Jordan Carlson, one of three sons Mark will have in the program, as well as sophomore Bryant and freshman Trayson.
“They’ve got big expectations of themselves, but for me it’s about coaching the team not coaching my kids,” Mark Carlson said. “They’ll have to compete and earn it same as everyone else.”
Besides Jordan, the list of upperclassmen includes Ryan Peck, Myles Simpson, Logan Hafey, and Nick Crookston.
The current seniors have been suiting up for varsity since as early as their freshman year in some cases, and apart from having grown in maturity, they’ve got considerable physical size, all of them at least 6 feet tall, with Crookston at 6-foot-8.
“Nick really committed this summer, he was at every open gym since I took over. He’s really come into his own, I think he’s going to have a good season defensively, he’s been blocking lots of shots,” Carlson said.
With plenty of familiarity with the WSL, Carlson expects Aspen to be the greatest threat this winter, with the Skiers and Coal Ridge both finishing 6-1 in league play last season and Aspen going as far as the state quarterfinals.
“Aspen is returning quite a bit, so we know they’ll be good and the team to beat. Coal Ridge should be down a little bit, I think they lost 11 seniors from last year, but they’re extremely well-coached,” Carlson said.
As someone who oversaw the Bulldog junior varsity squad, Carlson also plans to motivate the younger players to excel.
“It’s gonna be tough to pick a top 12. I want a top eight or nine guys who are strictly varsity, then leave three or four spots open to push those JV guys, give them something to reward them for their effort. It’s an incentive to work hard. Could be somebody different every week,” he said.
Amid the changes in coaching staff, MCHS athletes remain steady, largely because they trust each other.
“I’m very confident in this team; we’ve been playing together our entire lives,” Jordan Carlson said.
Part of that comes from a readiness to meet the needs of a varsity-level game.
“We’ve really gotten used to the speed and physicality of varsity by now and all those expectations,” Simpson said.
Peck likened the coming season to the fall he and many of his hoops teammates had on the gridiron.
“We’ve just gotta come out with energy like we did all year for football, that was a big thing to come out big and score on other teams early. We can do the same thing here if we keep moving forward and are ready to play defense,” he said.
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It wouldn’t be a league event for Moffat County High School track and field athletes without bringing home some hardware, and the Bulldogs earned some metal last weekend.