Matthew Jonas / Staff Photographer
Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer
Matthew Jonas / Staff Photographer
If Centaurus junior basketball player Morgan Negrey had her way last year, she wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity to break down her then-freshman sister Riley’s game so much from the Warriors bench.
Such was the case, however, when Morgan suffered a broken hand after the very first contest of the 2016-17 season — a campaign which otherwise turned out pretty memorable for CHS as Class 4A Northern League champions.
In hindsight Morgan Negrey learned to study the game of hoops from an entirely different perspective while she was forced to lead from the sideline, and she’s hoping to take full advantage of that this season as well as get a chance to play with her younger sister again.
Having grown up playing on youth teams together, last year was supposed to be special being high school court mates for the first time. A year later the chemistry, athleticism and toughness between them should be fully revealed.
“I was really excited about the season because I had been named captain and was ready to assume that leadership role, and one game and it was over,” Morgan Negrey said of last year. “It was a bummer but I just decided that I was going to learn from a different point of view and let it help me grow into this year. From the coach’s perspective, see what the offense is doing, what the defense was doing, so it could help me a lot — even though it totally sucked.
“My brother was here last year, too, so there was that kind of cool feeling that all three of us were going to play. A lot of people don’t get that chance.”
With somewhat similar stats during their freshman seasons, the sisters have each been instrumental in the re-awakening of the Centaurus program after a couple of down years. In two seasons from 2013-15, the Warriors were 10-36 overall, but even with a coaching change the program has back-to-back 20- and 18-win campaigns.
The 20-win season of 2015-16 saw Morgan pitch in about five points and four rebounds a contest as a first-year varsity player. Last season, with Chris Mischke taking over and leading them to an 11-3 record in the Northern, Morgan watched as Riley contributed a healthy 5.2 points and six rebounds per outing.
The relationship is such that they’ll make each other tougher, physically and mentally.
“I’ve definitely noticed that she’s grown a little bit, but it’s funny about our stats because we’re completely different players,” Morgan said. “She’s just raw and athletic and just goes for it, and I think a lot of things out.”
“She is way better at setting up other players and working the ball to get an open shot, rather than just diving around and throwing up shots like me,” Riley Negrey said.
Even in the unlikely scenario that their production doesn’t increase this year, the additional depth is music to Mischke’s ears. In fact, the Warriors lost just one full-time player and one reserve player from a year ago and will have the scoring depth of juniors Helen Gover (10.6 ppg), Imani Lecata-Becerril (8.3) and Brooke Calvo (7.3) to lean on.
Mischke, a Fairview graduate who has coached in the Boulder Valley School District for several years, saw his Warriors win a first-round playoff game in addition to taking the Northern crown. The Warriors were able to deflect some chaotic moments in his first year with the program to find success.
In league contests last year, Centaurus was third in points scored and first in fewest points allowed. This year, the idea is to build on that with even more uniformity — something likely necessary in order to even have a shot at defending that league crown.
“I think we’re going to be one of the better teams defensively because we are athletic, so it’s about matching that offensively with consistency,” Mischke said, noting he expects teams like Greeley Central, Mountain View, Longmont and Niwot to really be in the thick of the race. “We struggled to score without (now-graduated) Brooke (Jones) out of the lineup, but we’re better to a person and with our depth we’re able to give ourselves competitive practices.
“I was quarterbacking way too much last year, and that’s another thing I think we’ll be much better at this year is figuring things out for ourselves. I go down the line, and we’re all better.”
“I think a lot of it is mental toughness,” Riley Negrey added. “If we can remain confident coming into the season, knowing what we did last year, it will give us a giant boost.”