With the holidays in the rearview mirror and the preliminary bouts of nonconference play finally past, the prep boys basketball season resumes this week with renewed fervor as league play tips off.
Here is a look at each BoCoPreps.com-area conference, including the teams to beat, the can't-miss games, and the players to watch as the league races heat up.
5A FRONT RANGE LEAGUE
Boulder has won six of seven games despite working two exchange-student transfers into the lineup while dealing with the severe head injury suffered in early December by senior Marc Krimstock, who may not return after receiving multiple skull and facial fractures in a bicycle accident.
Despite the sometimes-uncertain rotation, first-year head coach Eric Eisenhard has led the Panthers to a 6-1 start behind an aggressive, up-tempo style of play. Senior Jonah Charnick has emerged as a solid inside-outside threat, while Mexican exchange student Alejandro Rodriguez has displayed a savvy court sense that has helped offset the loss of Krimstock.
"It's been all about team basketball, and the more we can play together as a team, the more success we'll have," Eisenhard said. "It's been a process, but the break was good for us because we were able to touch-up a few things. The more good games these guys play together, the better we'll be."
Fairview capped an impressive run through its nonconference slate by defeating Broomfield to claim the championship of the Knights' annual Fairview Festival. Senior guard Brent Wrapp has approached triple-double numbers almost every game, and the Knights will receive a huge boost when Valor Christian transfer Austin Sparks regains his eligibility in time for Fairview's home tilt against arch-rival Boulder on Jan. 19.
Monarch weathered some early injury issues but nonetheless enjoyed a successful nonconference run thanks largely to the hot shooting of junior Ben Beauchamp. Legacy went 4-3 in nonconference play behind a balanced offense led by Andrew Hebel and Mitch McCall, but the Lightning may be hard-pressed to keep pace with the FRL front-runners.
Contenders: Boulder (6-1), Fossil Ridge (6-2), Greeley West (6-2), Fairview (5-2), Loveland (5-2), Monarch (5-2).
Top players: Ben Beauchamp, Monarch (17.8 ppg); Jonah Charnick, Boulder (13.6 ppg); Andrew Hebel, Legacy (14.6 ppg); Alex Krason, Monarch (14.5); Conor Lang, Loveland (20.3 ppg, 8.0 rpg); Cody McCoy, Fossil Ridge (13.0 ppg); Alejandro Rodriguez, Boulder (13.8 ppg); Brent Wrapp, Fairview (16.6 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 6.0 apg).
Top games: Fairview at Monarch, Jan. 18; Boulder at Fairview, Jan. 19; Fairview at Fossil Ridge, Jan. 22; Fossil Ridge at Boulder, Feb. 5.
4A NORTHERN LEAGUE
Broomfield has endured a rugged nonconference slate, and the Eagles' mix of experience and depth makes the club the early favorite for the league title. Seniors Evan Kihn and Spenser Reeb give head coach Terrence Dunn two savvy and productive leaders, while junior Alec McLain has emerged as a consistent 3-point threat.
Longmont coach Jeff Kloster has masterfully worked three freshmen into the Trojans' rotation without missing a beat, but it remains to be seen how well Longmont's youngsters will respond during the rigors of league play. Mark the calendars for Longmont's tilt at Broomfield on Jan. 15: If the Trojans remain unbeaten, that game not only will give one of those clubs the early edge atop the conference, but it also will be the earliest Kloster can reach the 300-win plateau.
Despite a late start as their football players slowly returned to the court after Silver Creek's run to the 3A football title, the Raptors nonetheless have compiled a 5-1 mark. That record grows even more impressive due to the fact that the football delay and a team-wide bout with the flu have kept the Silver Creek lineup in a constant state of flux.
"The first thing for us is that we have had some seniors really step up and become leaders," Silver Creek coach Bob Banning said. "Luke Goforth and Brock Johnson have really been great in that role. They realize what our goals are for this year and they have really been sacrificing for the team."
Contenders: Longmont (5-0), Silver Creek (5-1), Broomfield (5-3), Thompson Valley (5-4), Niwot (4-3).
Top players: Trey Fleming, Silver Creek (12.3 ppg); Luke Goforth, Silver Creek (10.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg); Marcus Johnson, Longmont (14.8 ppg, 7.6 rpg); Jordan Keeler, Niwot (12 ppg); Austin Kemp, Longmont (12.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg); Evan Kihn, Broomfield (14.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg); Spenser Reeb, Broomfield (11.4, ppg, 6.5 rpg).
Top games: Niwot at Longmont, Jan. 11; Longmont at Broomfield, Jan. 15; Silver Creek at Broomfield, Feb. 5; Niwot at Silver Creek, Feb. 8; Silver Creek at Longmont, Feb. 22.
4A TRI-VALLEY LEAGUE
This is one race that easily could evolve into a multi-team competition. Windsor figures to be the favorite, but the Wizards are far from a lock and should receive plenty of heat from a number of teams, a group that includes Frederick, Mead, and Skyline.
Frederick and Mead each put together solid 4-3 starts, and each team will receive an early measuring stick within the league when they collide at Mead on Jan. 8. With its first two conference games occurring against Windsor and Mead, the Lucas Adams-led Warriors will have an opportunity to make an early statement. Frederick's three losses have occurred against 5A Monarch and perennial 4A powers Sierra and Longmont.
Skyline expects to contend for the league crown, but the Falcons suffered four consecutive losses before the holiday break. However, Skyline played those games without junior guard Luciano Quesada, who is expected to return from a knee injury when Skyline begins league play Friday against Mead. It will mark the first time this season that Skyline will have its entire rotation healthy.
"We have to shoot the ball better than we've started," Frederick coach Larry Frank said. "In a couple of our losses, we haven't shot the ball real well and that's something we've been working on.
"With Sterling going to 3A, it should be an interesting conference. I think the whole conference will be an improved product. Windsor is always up there no matter how many kids they lose, and Skyline is going to be a tough game for everybody."
Mead, led by Ryan Lozinski, has started strong in its first year as a Class 4A program, yet it remains to be seen how the Mavericks will react to facing tougher competition every night. Mead got a jump on that experience by scheduling five of its seven nonconference games against 4A or 5A opponents.
Contenders: Windsor (5-4), Frederick (4-3), Mead (4-3), Skyline (3-4), Roosevelt (3-3).
Top players: Lucas Adams, Frederick (10.1 ppg, 6.4 apg); Dylan Brink, Erie (12.3 ppg); Aaron Cheung, Mead (14.0 ppg); Colton Dabney, Skyline (14.6 ppg, 10.6 rpg); Ryan Lozinski, Mead (18.8 ppg, 9.0 rpg); Dustin Mandrell, Skyline (15.2 ppg); Ryan Miller, Frederick (10 ppg, 5.1 rpg); Michael Mitchell, Roosevelt (13.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg); Dylan Ochsner, Windsor (18.1 ppg).
Top games: Mead at Skyline, Jan. 4; Frederick at Mead, Jan. 8; Windsor at Frederick, Jan. 29; Windsor at Skyline, Feb. 5; Frederick at Skyline, Feb. 19.
3A/2A METRO LEAGUE
By far the toughest league in the classification, Holy Family and Peak to Peak will be just two teams among a handful of contenders vying for the conference crown.
Holy Family, which does not open league play until a Jan. 11 tilt against Bishop Machebeuf, has cruised to a 5-1 mark, with its lone loss occurring against Class 4A power Broomfield. Juniors David Sommers (15.2 ppg, 3.2 steals per game) and Ryan Willis have provided a solid one-two scoring punch for the Tigers, but Holy Family will be sorely tested during a three-game set in mid-January featuring home dates against Lutheran and Faith Christian and a road match against Peak to Peak.
Peak to Peak has put together an equally impressive nonconference resume thanks in part to the dominance of senior Max Clark. Clark has emerged as one of the top players in the league while averaging a double-double at 20.8 and 10.3 rebounds a game. The Pumas will need continued consistent play from seniors Sam Fangman and Drew Otey to keep defenses from collapsing on Clark. The Pumas' fate may be decided during a five-game stretch that begins at Jefferson Academy on Jan. 18 and concludes with a home date against Kent Denver on Feb. 6.
That latter date could prove to be the most important of the season, as Holy Family visits Colorado Academy on Feb. 6.
Contenders: Colorado Academy (8-0), Kent Denver (5-0), Peak to Peak (7-1), Holy Family (5-1), Lutheran (3-1), Jefferson Academy (4-2).
Top players: Justin Bassey, Colorado Academy (18 ppg, 6.1 rpg); Max Clark, Peak to Peak (20.8 ppg, 10.3 rpg); Sam Fangman, Peak to Peak (13.3 ppg, 7.4 rpg); Josh Repine, Kent Denver (13.2 ppg); David Sommers, Holy Family (15,2 ppg); Ryan Willis, Holy Family (12.2 ppg).
Top games: Peak to Peak at Colorado Academy, Jan. 22; Holy Family at Peak to Peak, Jan. 25; Kent Denver at Peak to Peak, Feb. 6; Holy Family at Colorado Academy, Feb. 6.
3A/2A PATRIOT LEAGUE
The addition of Sterling, formerly a perennial power at the Class 4A level, will make the league even more rugged -- particularly for Lyons, one of the smallest schools in the combined 3A-2A conference.
The Lions may struggle during league play, but the club could face a similar payoff as last season. During the 2011-12 season Lyons entered the Class 2A district tournament with a 4-15 record before putting together a solid postseason run, finally bowing out in regional play.
Lyons boasts a younger team than a season ago, but the trio of James Hinker, Justin Boldt, and Trent Poulsen is contributing more than 30 points a game to the Lions' offense. Lyons will receive a break as the club will host most of the league's front-runners.
Contenders: Brush (6-0), University (5-2), Sterling (5-2), Estes Park (5-2), Eaton (4-2), Strasburg (4-2).
Top players: Justin Boldt, Lyons (10.4 ppg), Isaak Cirone, Estes Park (23.4 ppg), James Hinker, Lyons (11.2 ppg), Kyle Rosenbrock, Brush (10.7 ppg), Collin Sanger, Sterling (17.0 ppg.
Top games: Sterling at Lyons, Feb. 2; Brush at Lyons, Feb. 12.
2A MILE HIGH LEAGUE
Alexander Dawson has turned heads with its 4-0 start, and the Mustangs will battle through one last demanding nonconference tilt at Colorado Academy on Jan. 10 before beginning league play against Union Colony on Jan. 15. Alexander Dawson has received about 35 points and 12.5 rebounds a game from the tandem of Robby Keown and Tom Walker.
Longmont Christian, which opens league play Friday against Denver Christian, has held its opponents to just 33.7 points a game during its solid 3-0 start. Although Resurrection Christian has suffered through a 3-3 start, the Cougars and perennial power Denver Christian will be the biggest obstacles in Alexander Dawson's drive toward a conference crown.
Contenders: Heritage Christian (6-0), Alexander Dawson (4-0), Longmont Christian (3-0), Denver Christian (4-1); Resurrection Christian (3-3).
Top players: Josh Carter, Denver Christian (11.4 ppg); Robby Keown, Alexander Dawson (16.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg); Matthew McGinley, Heritage Christian (16.5 ppg, 5.2 apg); Wyatt Simon, Resurrection Christian (16.2 ppg, 5.3 apg); Tom Walker, Alexander Dawson (16 ppg, 6.0 rpg).
Top games: Alexander Dawson at Resurrection Christian, Jan. 18; Longmont Christian at Alexander Dawson, Jan. 29; Alexander Dawson at Heritage Christian, Feb. 8; Alexander Dawson at Denver Christian, Feb. 21.
1A 5280 LEAGUE
Shining Mountain should run away with the league crown. The Lions' toughest competition should come from Denver Jewish Day, Community Christian, and Cornerstone Christian, although Shining Mountain already has posted a 55-point win against Cornerstone. The Lions may not be tested until the postseason, as no team in the 5280 League can match Shining Mountain's high-scoring trio of Colin Cantwell, Andrew Bremner and Alex Beal.
Contenders: Shining Mountain (5-0, 1-0), Denver Jewish Day (3-1, 0-0), Cornerstone Christian (1-6, 0-0).
Top players: Alex Beal, Shining Mountain (12.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg); Andrew Bremner, Shining Mountain (13.4 ppg, 8.4 apg, 7.6 rpg); Colin Cantwell, Shining Mountain (18.2 ppg, 7.6 rpg); Joe Fox, Jim Elliott (18 ppg, 4.8 rpg); Bryan Hodge, Community Christian (21.2 ppg, 12.8 rpg); Evan Ice, Cornerstone Christian (14.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg); Andrew Vinnick, Denver Jewish Day (16 ppg).
Top games: Kent Denver at Shining Mountain, Jan. 29; Shining Mountain at Denver Jewish Day, Feb. 5.
FRONT RANGE CHRISTIAN LEAGUE
Faith Baptist has stumbled to an 0-4 start and will need to improve defensively in order to compete for this independent league's crown. The Pioneers have surrendered at least 61 points in every game and are allowing an average of 69 points a game. Faith Baptist will face a stern test shortly after its holiday break with a road date against Denver Eagles Christian on Jan. 11.
Contenders: Denver Eagles Christian (2-2), Front Range Baptist (2-4).
Top players: Jake Schwarz, Front Range Baptist (15.5 ppg); Scott Wichael, Denver Eagles Christian (16.3 ppg).
Top games: Faith Baptist at Denver Eagles Christian, Jan. 11; Denver Eagles Christian at Faith Baptist, Feb. 12.
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