BOULDER — When you have a little bit of talent and some decent size, a coaching change almost becomes a non-issue, especially at the small school level.
That’s not to say Sean Lynch hasn’t worked hard in transforming the Shining Mountain boys into a different yet still capable basketball team in Class 1A.
On Thursday night, the Lions improved to 5-0 in thrilling fashion, a 59-57 5280 League victory over Cornerstone Christian, signaling a fairly seamless transition from former coach Enoch Miller’s style of play. Ironically, what might help is that the Lions as a team are mostly new to the varsity court.
“It is a completely different team, top to bottom,” said Lynch prior to their final game until January 11. “We have young guys that are playing way bigger roles than they were last year. We’re running a completely different program, the culture is different, and we’re basically starting over.
“Some of these guys haven’t played any meaningful varsity minutes before this season. All the sudden they’re playing nearly the whole game because of the early season tournaments. Maybe it is a little easier that everyone is new, because they aren’t used to things being run a certain way.”
Lynch has definitely put his own stamp on the team after taking over for Miller, who was hired at Niwot after guiding the Lions to the 1A championship game last season. Lynch wants the players to focus on defense, but senior captain Alex Beal said there were a few other nuances of play that they’ve had to get used to.
Apparently, though, they have — and they’ve done so as a team.
“It’s definitely a different style of play than last year, a lot quicker and a lot more up and down than what we ran last year,” said Beal, a 6-foot-4 monster averaging 21 points a game. “It’s fun. I think a lot of our chemistry has come from knowing the guys. The ones that are on the team now, they might not have gotten the playing time but they were still there practicing with us every day.
“There is some senior leadership, but coach Lynch definitely emphasizes team.”
Others around the state have taken notice of their play, too. Despite the loss of several players from last season in addition to a new head man on the bench, the Lions started the season ranked by those voting for the CHSAAnow.com poll. With the hot start, though, they’ve risen to No. 4 in those rankings.
Beal, who hit the go-ahead basket Thursday night with 20.9 seconds remaining after stealing the ball at the top of the key with the game tied at 57-57, said he believes there aren’t a lot of expectations for the Lions to go far on the outside. Yet the players in the locker room certainly have the desire to follow up with just as strong a season as a year ago.
“We lost so many (players) that I don’t know if anyone expects anything out of us this year,” he said. “We’re here to make a statement. Our team knows what it wants to accomplish … we all want to work hard to accomplish what we can.”
Not too many 1A teams can boast the height and size of the Lions. In addition to Beal, junior Avery Sears goes 6-3 and is having a standout season with a 16-point average. For this team, the early success has come from everyone buying in to the system Lynch has employed.
Thursday, they showed some patience, too. Cornerstone entered the fourth quarter with a 53-44 advantage, but a 10-0 run sparked by eight Beal points got the hosts right back in the game, and they battled the rest of the way to win. Beal had 25 for the game to go along with 11 rebounds.
Though the Lions are getting consistent scoring from just five players, the entire roster has pitched in defensively. As a result, the Lions have allowed just 47 points a contest.
“Our main focus is defense, that’s kind of the cornerstone of our program, and I give a lot of freedom on offense,” Lynch said. “We want to pressure teams and make them uncomfortable. We are really focusing on that end of the court.”
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SHINING MOUNTAIN 59, CORNERSTONE CHRISTIAN 57
At Shining Mountain HS
CORNERSTONE CHRISTIAN (3-4)
Lubin 1 1-2 3, S. Campbell 2 0-2 5, C. Campbell 1 0-0 2, Mulford 6 0-0 15, Durrill 16 0-0 32. Totals 26 1-4 57.
SHINING MOUNTAIN (5-0)
Beal 11 0-1 25, Feigal 4 0-0 12, Sears 1 0-4 2, Smith 2 1-2 5, Cherin 1 2-2 4, Hill 5 1-3 11. Totals 24 4-12 59.
Score by quarters:
Cornerstone Christian 13 10 30 4 — 57
Shining Mountain 13 17 14 15 — 59
3-point field goals — CC (4): S. Campbell, Mulford 3; SM (7): Feigal 4, Beal 3.