LONGMONT -- The Mead boys basketball team feels like it has to prove it's up to a new task each year. The Mavericks take pride in how adept they're becoming at proving people wrong.
Carving out their place at the Class 4A level in 2013, the Mavericks' emergence is rooted in senior forward Ryan Lozinski's versatility and leadership.
"We have a sense of pride and I think we're showing that to all these teams," Lozinski said. "People thought we couldn't make it in 4A but we've really proved ourselves this year. We felt underestimated this year and we're out to prove that we're a really capable, really tough 4A team. I really think we're a threat in 4A."
Twelve games into his senior season, Lozinski is fifth in Class 4A with a 19.8 scoring average and seventh in 4A in rebounding, averaging 9.3 a game. Lozinski has scored double-digit points in 11 games and has touched 30 twice. In seven games, he paired double-digit rebounds with points for double-doubles.
The Mavericks went 15-8 during their 2011-12 campaign and qualified for the Class 3A state tournament for the first time. But a heartbreaking 62-60 loss to Alamosa in the first round ended the Mavericks' magical run into foreign territory much shorter than they had hoped.
"After last year, it felt really empty," said Lozinski, also the team leader with 22 blocks. "We're coming back this year with more intensity because we don't want that to happen again. We've seen what we can do and during the preseason it helped show what our potential was going to be throughout the season."
Realizing his team's potential, Lozinski returned with resolute fire for his final run with the Mavericks.
The senior forward credits his teammates for providing him opportunities to score. He also praises them for picking up the slack when he can't get the ball to go down.
But, the tallest Mavericks player at 6-foot-4, Lozinski is constantly facing taller or bigger, if not both, opponents in the post. So for much of his production he can credit only himself.
"I'm just hustling," Lozinski said. "I don't know any other way to put it. It's nothing unusual, I guess. It's tough playing those tall guys. Throughout the years, I've just grown accustomed to it."
Quick off the floor, Lozinski has learned to become an intelligent, anticipatory rebounder when matched up against larger players. Against those same players, the quickness his leaner body provides becomes an advantage.
Mavericks head coach Darin Reese said Lozinski's greatest strength might lie between his ears, rather than between his ribs.
The Mead boys are emerging as one of Class 4A's more unique squads. With a unique leader like Lozinski, it would be hard for them not to be.
"He's hard to guard. His instincts are outstanding, he's great on the offensive glass, he does a great job finding a way to get open," Reese said. "He's really matured and taken that leadership role. His numbers have always been good in recent years, but I think that's why he's gotten so consistent."
Last year's graduating seniors Austin Hartley and Orel Chavez, who combined for 27.3 points per game last season, left a void in the scoring column. Averaging 15.1 points per game as a junior, Lozinski was their obvious successor.
"I felt like that leadership role needed to be filled and I was the person to do it," Lozinski said. "I've been in this program for four years and I felt like I needed to take that spot. Especially with Austin gone, that makes me the big man down low."
With Lozinski down low, Aaron Cheung (14.6 ppg) and Taylor Desch (3.7 apg) are also finding a rhythm for the guard-heavy Mavericks (8-4, 3-1), who have developed into a balanced, aggressive group.
As a result, the Mavericks are starting to finish close games, like holding off Tri-Valley contender Windsor to win 66-56 on Monday night. Lozinski had 20 points, eight rebounds and five blocks in the game.
The Mavericks don't spend much time talking about how underestimated they feel. But they're determined to stay focused on each game so teams will note when the Mavericks approach on their schedules.
"We've been together, this group, for almost three years now so we know each others' tendencies," Desch said. "We're scrappy and we get after it at both ends. Teams know who we are now and we've just decided to improve every day. It's a big deal that teams are talking about us and we know they are. And we know all the other teams so everyone's on the same playing field."
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