Over the last month, we’ve previewed each team in the Continental League. Now, with the season fast approaching, we are previewing the league itself — as we will do with each major league in the state over the coming weeks. Today, we give our predicted order of finish in the Continental. Tomorrow, we’ll pick our first-, second- and third-team all-Continental preseason teams.
These predictions certainly were not easy to make by any means in one of the state’s best leagues, but here is the list.
1. ThunderRidge. It’s easy to look at the defending state runner-up Grizzlies and see they are down a 7-footer with Zach Pirog now playing at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. But Joe Ortiz’s program is a well-oiled machine that will benefit from the emergence of Clay Verk, who is becoming a more and more versatile big man. Austin Mueller, a Wyoming commit, appears ready to lead and the depth on this squad — Troy Brady, Austin Seng, Kaison Hammonds, Elijah Rodriguez, the list goes on — will make it tough to beat.
2. Legend. This senior-laden group has played together for years, and this could be the year that chemistry makes them a major state championship contender. If Connor McCord can give this team consistent post play, and the depth on the team can prove itself alongside the core of Riley Matticks, Danny Garrick, Jared Small and Monroe Porter, this team could be very dangerous.
3. Rock Canyon. The Jaguars are a team on the rise, with a seemingly never-ending stream of shooters and facilitators who have all seemed to buy in strongly to coach Kent Grams philosophy of outworking opponents. Just a sophomore, Sam Masten has the chance to be one of the league’s — heck, the state’s — best players, and Rock Canyon will look to the young, talented guard to be a leader this season.
4. Regis Jesuit. The Raiders lost almost everyone from a 2014-15 team that came within a couple possessions of the Final Four last season, but under Ken Shaw the Raiders don’t rebuild they reload. Regis has plenty of talent in the pipeline ready to step up this season, and it has a solid, experienced and versatile forward in Geoff Kelly who should provide key leadership to go with his production.
5. Mountain Vista. The Golden Eagles lost 50 percent of its scoring with the departure of two players — Brady Subart and Ray Beresford — but dynamic do-it-all Isaac Phillips (7.2 points, 5.0 assists, 2.5 steals per game last season) has the tools to lead, and 6-foot-8 junior Jake Belknapp is developing into one of the state’s top big men.
6. Heritage. One of the few teams fortunate enough to be returning its leading scorer (Jack Peck, 14.2 points per game last season), Heritage has some pieces in place to be able to surprise some foes in the Continental under veteran coach Jentry Byleveld.
7. Chaparral. Tellus Truesdale takes over as the new coach of the Wolverines, and he sure wouldn’t mind if the dynamic duo of Chris Moody and Jake Holtzmann. Alas, those two have moved onto the college ranks of course, so Truesdale will rely on some new faces to lead the charge, including talented senior guard Dominic Coleman. Truesdale has also been impressed with his freshman, which includes Ronnie DeGray and Bryce Matthews.
8. Castle View. The Sabercats should make big strides in their second season under coach Patrick Simpson, and multi-talented senior guard Jake Ellis presents a good piece to work around. If Castle View can elevate its play defensively, it can surprise people.
9. Highlands Ranch. Another team with a new coach this season, the Falcons begin their first season of the post-Bob Caton under another veteran in Mike Gibbs, who was last coaching league rival Ponderosa. He has good pieces to work with that have started to form some solid chemistry. They also have a great glue guy in senior Jack Fiddler. Ranch certainly has talent. Will it come together quick enough to make noise?
10. Ponderosa. Talking over for Gibbs at Ponderosa is Steve Ketchum, who built a small-school basketball power of the past 16 seasons in Aspen. Now he’s getting a team of new players to adapt to a new culture. Ketchum admits that the transition could take some time, but expect the Mustangs to pack a punch by the end of the season.
11. Douglas County. It was a tough year for Earl Boykins in his first foray into coaching, going 0-10 with the Huskies in league play last season. But Douglas County played very tough during summer league action and appears to be bought in to the former NBA guard’s preachings. Senior C.J. Jetta has had a great summer and will be looked to as the team’s bona fide leader. This team simply has to prove it is ready to win.