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Boys basketball: Tough road steeled Holy Family for postseason run

  • David R Jennings

    Holy Family forward Kyle Willis, right, is leading the Tigers in scoring at 9.7 points per game this season.

  • David R Jennings

    Holy Family's David Sommers is one of the Tigers' top scoring threats this season.

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BROOMFIELD — Few Class 3A boys basketball teams played a schedule like Holy Family did this season. And the Tigers have the bruised up 15-9 record to show for it.

They’re also one of the last eight teams standing as the 3A Great Eight gets underway on Thursday at Moby Arena in Fort Collins.

“That’s the reason why we’re here,” senior guard Connor Clay said this week of the Tigers’ schedule. “We’ve been beaten up all year. This is when it pays off. We’re excited. We’re ready to go and make a big splash.”

The Tigers, who entered the 3A state tourney seeded 10th, face No. 2 Colorado Springs Christian School (24-0) at 10:15 a.m. Thursday.

CSCS is just one of the six other teams in the remaining 3A field that Holy Family has played at least once already this season. The Tigers are 2-6 in those games, with wins over Eaton and Kent Denver and losses to Faith Christian (twice), Manual, Manitou Springs, Kent Denver and CSCS. Only Faith and Manual beat the Tigers by double digits.

The Tigers’ slate this season also included losses to 4A semifinalist Broomfield and 2A quarterfinalist Lutheran.

The dividends already started rolling in last weekend, when the Tigers went on the road to Aspen to beat Classical Academy in the first round and then upset No. 7 Aspen in the Sweet 16.

“We took it on the chops a few times to some good teams,” second-year head coach Pete Villecco said. “It really prepared us for this past weekend. We just felt like we were battle-tested. It’s toughened us up.”

Aside from his team’s trials, Villecco has had his own scheduling issues to overcome, albeit positive in nature.

His wife gave birth to their first child in November as practices were getting started. The time demands of a new son at home have only added to the four-month grinder that is basketball season, though Villecco admits his wife has taken on the bulk of the late-night feedings and responsibilities.

“It’s been a challenge, but it’s been a blast,” Villecco said.

Villecco — a native New Yorker (with the accent to prove it) who graduated from Broomfield High in 1996 — has in his second season turned a Tigers squad that perennially hovered around the .500 mark in recent years into one that feels like it has as good a chance as any at the 3A crown.

The quick ascent didn’t come without some lumps, though.

The Tigers went 7-14 last season before rebounding this year with the squad’s first trip to the Great Eight since 2003.

“It’s been a process,” Villecco said. “Ever since we got in we’ve been really committed to skill development. Our kids committed to it. We had a really good summer. … And it’s starting to show.”

Once in the Broomfield hoops family as a prep player for coach Rick Wolfe, Villecco never strayed far. He served as a student assistant and graduate assistant at Adams State before two years as head coach at La Junta. After two years as an assistant at Brighton, he returned to Broomfield as an assistant for Kevin Boley and then current Eagles coach Terrence Dunn before landing the cross-town gig at Holy Family.

In two years’ time, he’s built a team that prides itself on man-to-man defense and sharing the basketball.

“We’re starting to get it and buy into what coach is bringing to the table now,” Clay said. “Second year, we know what’s expected. Our attitudes, we believe we’re going to win every game.”

No Tiger averages double-digit scoring. But a big front line has proven a solid foundation with 6-foot-4 forwards Kyle Willis and Tanner Stuhr leading the team with 9.7 and 9.1 points per game, respectively.

Add to that guards like Clay (8.0 ppg) and sophomore David Sommers (8.2 ppg) and the Tigers feel like they can adjust to a variety of scenarios with different players capable of stepping up on a given night.

“It’s been a total team effort the whole season,” Willis, a senior, said.

Now the Tigers are hoping all of those factors help close what’s been a rocky road at times with a victory lap through Fort Collins.

While the Tigers fell to CSCS — which features Denver Pioneers recruit Nate Engesser (23.2 ppg) — 55-51 back in December, they’re on an adrenaline surge from their late season success.

“It’s been a heck of a ride the last few weeks,” Villecco said. “We’re going to go there and give it our best shot and see what happens.”