As our season preview series rolls on, we begin our preview of the Front Range League. Tonight: Predicting the order of finish in the league. Tomorrow: Preseason All-League Teams.
1. Fossil Ridge
The Sabercats were the Class 5A runner-up to Denver East two years ago and reached the Sweet 16 last year. Matt Johannsen, in our estimation one of the best coaches in the state, has built a winning program at every level. He will have some weapons to replace though in 6-foot-7 Ryan Quaid (17.2 ppg, 11.4 rpg), who is now at West Texas A&M, Zacc Drovdal (10.6 ppg), Andrew Semadeni (8.4), and Brady Menefee (6.4). But if you’ve watched Fossil play, you know they have a habit of reloading with highly skilled players and several sharpshooters. Braxton Bertolette, our No. 7 ranked player in 2017, shoots the ball as well as anyone around and senior guard Jackson Everhart has a wonderful shooting stroke, as well. 6-foot-7 junior Cameron DeHart has upside. The Sabercats went 11-1 in the league last year with their lone loss to Fort Collins (11-1), the conference champs who, according to the FRL, technically shared the title with Fossil. Look for this group to be in a
As our season preview series rolls on, we begin our preview of the Front Range League. Tonight: Predicting the order of finish in the league. Tomorrow: Preseason All-League Teams.1. Fossil Ridge
The Sabercats were the Class 5A runner-up to Denver East two years ago and reached the Sweet 16 last year. Matt Johannsen, in our estimation one of the best coaches in the state, has built a winning program at every level. He will have some weapons to replace though in 6-foot-7 Ryan Quaid (17.2 ppg, 11.4 rpg), who is now at West Texas A&M, Zacc Drovdal (10.6 ppg), Andrew Semadeni (8.4), and Brady Menefee (6.4). But if you’ve watched Fossil play, you know they have a habit of reloading with highly skilled players and several sharpshooters. Braxton Bertolette, our No. 7 ranked player in 2017, shoots the ball as well as anyone around and senior guard Jackson Everhart has a wonderful shooting stroke, as well. 6-foot-7 junior Cameron DeHart has upside. The Sabercats went 11-1 in the league last year with their lone loss to Fort Collins (11-1), the conference champs who, according to the FRL, technically shared the title with Fossil. Look for this group to be in a heated race with Collins again for city and league bragging rights.
The Coyotes, for four years running, have been a top three team in the final FRL standings. They should be right in the thick of it again as Mac Rowan (13.6 ppg, 54 percent from three), Stephen Hoban (7 ppg), and Ryan Webb (6.1 ppg) will be a core that could contend for the conference title. The Coyotes have won at least 19 games in three consecutive seasons. Expect them to make it four straight in 2016 with a gritty group looking for postseason redemption after a first round upset loss to Lakewood.
3. Fort Collins
Monty Alcaraz’s teams have a habit of reloading. Since the 2008-09 season, the Lambkins have won at least 15 games in all but one season. Despite losing their top five scorers to graduation, Collins has this pretty well figured out by now. With a 2017 class to be excited about, top 100 prospects Jacob Pfaffinger, Brian Read, Iseri Palacio, along with fellow junior Ricky Orozco, the Lambkins might not experience much of a regression, if any, from a 17-7, 11-1 season. And, with all that talent in the junior group, it’ll be a joy to see these guys grow together and potentially challenge for a couple of conference titles coming up.
Honestly, the Knights weren’t a very strong team last year, finishing with a 9-15 record and just sneaking into the state tournament. On top of that, Frank Lee, after 18 years as the coach at Fairview, 14 as the school’s athletic director, has retired after a great run in hoops. So why is Fairview ranked this high going in? Patrick Burke will take over for his mentor, 6-foot-11 Frank Ryder returns home from the IMG Academy, and 6-foot-6 Sam Grad is looking like a player. Ryder, a San Diego commit, could step in and be the most dominant figure in the Front Range. Grad can do a little bit of everything. Together, these two will cause trouble for any and all front lines in the conference, especially when considering the lack of size many of the teams have. If Fairview gets efficient guard play to complement their bigs, they might double their win total.
Jack Clarke takes over the program for Eric Eisenhard, who moved out of state. Eisenhard did an excellent job and left one of Colorado’s best shooters in Landon Taliaferro, a senior guard who poured in 13.7 points per game and made 45 percent of his three-pointers with 58 makes last season. The Panthers will have to replace a good chunk of their scoring beyond Taliaferro, but Jack Boyle, Tad’s son, is 6-foot-5 and skilled. Bill Discipio, Luke Wilson, and Savoy Carl are solid players, as well. The Panthers have been one of the best programs in the league for awhile and with Taliaferro and Boyle leading the way, that may not change this season.
6. Greeley West
The Spartans seem poised for a jump in the standings. After a 3-9, 10-14 season with West earning a No. 12 seed in the state tournament (lost in first round to Northglenn), the top six leading scorers will all return. Cordell Gillingham, a Concordia commit, is one of the best guards in the league and fellow guard Connor Thompson is a Nebraska Wesleyan commit. 6-foot-5 Preston Marion (12.4 ppg, 7.8 rpg) and Darren DeLaCroix, an excellent all-around athlete for Greeley West and a top 100 prospect in the 2017 class, will man the post, and freshman point guard Andre Sepeda could already play a role as a distributor. Greeley West could finish in the top half of the league.
In a conference with potentially quite a bit of parity, the Lightning are a difficult team to rank, but with so many returners (11 of 12 varsity members), a 10-14, 3-9 season might get flipped this year. Tyler Converse (17.3 ppg) is a top 50 player in 2016. Dalton Royer (12.4 ppg), Jeffrey Salazar (8.7 ppg), and Jake Boeckenstedt (5.2 ppg) also return for a Legacy team that could have its most successful season in awhile. They do lose stud quarterback and basketball talent Matt Lynch, who will be off to UCLA early, but the Lightning have a legitimate chance at being one of the better Front Range League teams.
The Indians will be a team of intrigue. Being a middle of the pack program in the FRL for the past several years, the Indians have a first-year coach in Adam Anderson and, rumor has it, will be getting a number of the best athletes in the school out for basketball again, including football players from Loveland’s 4A quarterfinal team in the likes of Ayden Eberhardt (9.6 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 48 percent from downtown), Aidan McQuade, Calvin Kelley, and Ryan Svendsen. Ben Newton (also a baseball player) and Marcus Quere (Division I level track athlete) will be key to Loveland’s success, as well. Much is up in the air with so many new faces, including on the coaching staff, but Loveland might surprise and emerge as one of the better teams in the FRL.
The Hawks have soared the past two seasons while winning 16 and 15 games, but they'll have something to prove after losing five of their top six scorers, including Michael Skinner (19.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 4.4 apg, 5.1 spg). Blaze Roberts (6.5 ppg), a talented guard, is a top 100 player in 2016. Grayson Stubbs will be a major contributor in the backcourt, as well. This is a bit of an unknown group.
10. Rocky Mountain
The Lobos had grit last season. After starting with a 1-15 record, they fought tooth and nail for a 5-7 conference mark and a playoff spot. Cam Erickson (17 ppg) has graduated, but Benji Williams (12.1 ppg, 7.7 rpg), a versatile swingman, is a top 100 player in 2016. Tyler Hyland (9 ppg) is a talented football player and top 100 prospect in 2017. Point guard Justin Green (5.5 ppg) is solid, as well. Rocky Mountain, under second-year coach Brian Tafel, might struggle with the upper crust of the league, but they could certainly make progress with a pretty good tandem of Williams and Hyland.
11. Mountain Range
Andrew Romero III, Ben Egan, and James Porter led the Mustangs to 15 and 18 wins in the last two seasons, but the loss of those three means 72 percent of the team’s scoring has graduated. Romero will especially be tough to replace as he averaged 19.2 points, 6.8 rebounds, 3 assists, 1.7 steals and shot 56 percent from the field as a senior. This could be something of a transition year at Mountain Range, but they do have some good young players. Max Castillo, a 6-foot-3 junior guard who averaged 8.6 points per game last year, and junior big man Tyler Smith are expected to take on bigger roles. Mike Polson also saw some varsity action as a freshman. The Mustangs are a fairly unknown squad going in, but there is reason for optimism.
The Eagles have only won 12 games in the past two years, but a program with plenty of tradition could turn the corner again. Going 2-10 in the Front Range League and 5-18 last season in their first year in 5A was a struggle, but Broomfield does return six of their top seven scorers in Nate Lehnerz, Jack Burgesser, Kyle Rynearson, Geoferry Davis, Sam Foster, and Noah Dohm. The first goal will be to make their first trip to the 5A playoffs. As mentioned, in a conference with so many close games from week to week, Broomfield will have to relearn how to close out games and get on hot streaks. Plenty of returners could make that a possibility.
The Impalas have also fallen on some tough times in recent years, winning only one game a season ago and going winless in the FRL. With a mixture of graduates and returners, Poudre will have to prove they are ready to rise in this league, but Mitchel Yokem (8.5 ppg) and Anthony Raffaeli (6.1 ppg) are good players. For a team that played well defensively at times, they often struggled to put the ball in the hoop, so offense will be an area that, with a boost, could lead to more wins.