MANCOS – The Bluejays wasted no time making a statement about their ambitions for the 2021 campaign. Opening their season against a state tournament-caliber Sanford squad, the Bluejays stymied the Indians for three quarters, then held off a late Indian charge to pick up a 62-55 win.
Returning two of their top three scorers from last season in juniors Connor Showalter and Evan Sehnert, Mancos proved that their program will be among the favorites for a repeat of their district championship a year ago.
Meanwhile, a youth movement will make the Jays that much more dangerous this year, as a pair of freshmen emerged in the season opener to steal the headlines. First-years Kail Wayman and Chris Medina both broke onto the high school stage in fine style, propelling the hosts to victory behind double-figure scoring performances and feisty defensive play.
The contest featured coaching legends on both benches, with Mancos now under the helm of Bob Archibeque, the Bluejays alum and former Montezuma-Cortez High School boys and girls basketball coach, as well as current coach of M-CHS track and field. His coaching counterpart, Rhett Larsen from Sanford, brought tremendous pedigree as well, having guided the Indians to three consecutive state titles in the middle part of the decade, along with the still-standing 74 consecutive victory streak that was accomplished during those title years.
On the floor, the players felt the magnitude of the matchup, particularly since just two months prior, the Bluejays and Indians football teams met in the eight-man state quarterfinals, with Sanford prevailing 36-28. The rosters of both teams were full of players who took to the gridiron in that epic contest, with plenty of high emotions on full display from the opening tip.
After Sanford scored the game’s first basket, Mancos clamped down defensively with a smothering zone press. On the offensive end, the Jays rattled off 10 consecutive points to take command of the game early. A Sehnert 3-pointer at the buzzer capped a strong first quarter, with Mancos holding a 17-6 lead. The Indians turned the ball over throughout the first quarter to allow the Bluejays to build their cushion.
Mancos kept the Indians at arm’s length throughout the second period, as Showalter imposed his presence on the interior, helping Mancos preserve their 11-point edge at the break, up 25-14.
In the third quarter, it became the freshmen show for Mancos, as Wayman and Medina sparked a massive Bluejay run to build their lead to 21 points midway through the third quarter. Both showed the willingness to attack the basket against taller Indian defenders, leading Wayman to finish with game-high honors for the Bluejays with 16 points.
Sanford, however, showed the tenacity of a program that is not used to getting blown out, as the Indians methodically chipped into the Bluejay lead. Indian guard Cash Caldon caught fire from beyond the arc, dropping in five 3-pointers en route to 19 points.
His first three of the second half, closing the deficit to 43-30 on the first sequence of the fourth quarter, ignited the Sanford bench.
Trying to force Mancos to pick up the pace of the game, Sanford employed a full-court press that, when successful, turned the Bluejays over. However, Mancos broke the press with enough frequency to get lay-ups that stunted the Sanford rally.
Tensions boiled over for the Indians, as they picked up three flagrant fouls in the second half, leading to free throws that allowed the Bluejays to hold on for the win.
Showalter, Sehnert and Medina all joined Wayman in double figures, with the juniors each tallying a dozen points for the night, while Medina chipped in with 10.
Meanwhile, the defense took center stage for the blue-and-white in their season-opening win. “We’re a fast team,” said Showalter, “and we wanted to make sure that we stayed in front of our guys, then make sure that we crashed the boards.”
On the other end of the floor, clutch baskets came from a variety of sources in the second half, including juniors Connor Sehnert and Edgar Hernandez.
Showalter attributed unselfish play from the offense for their success.
“We had a lot of good ball movement, and the young guys really stepped up tonight,” he said.
Archibeque was pleased with his team’s energy and aggressiveness in their first outing.
“We have a special bunch of kids,” said Archibeque, “and we want to play a brand of basketball that allows them to showcase their skills.”
“They knew that each defensive possession was important,” added Archibeque, “and that needs to be in the heart of each of these young men.”
According to Showalter, an early season test against a state-ranked Sanford team can give Mancos a lot of confidence moving forward.
“I think that later in the season, a game like this against a good opponent is really going to benefit us.”