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RANGELY I “We are finally top-loaded with experienced upperclassmen, which will be a welcome change in regards to leadership and cohesiveness,” Rangely boys’ basketball coach Eric Hejl said. “We will be returning nine varsity players from last year, including seven guys that started at least one varsity game last season.”
The Panthers will be led by seniors Chas Byerly, Jake Massey, Gabe Garcia, Cory Evans and Tobie Gasper, who all started practicing Nov. 9.
“This group of seniors has been playing together for a long time and I expect to get major contributions from them in their final year,” Hejl said. “Chas was out most of last year with an ankle injury but he’s looked great so far in practice and it’s nice to have him back at 100 percent. Jake, Cory and Gabe should give us good balance and leadership at the top as well. Tobie hasn’t played the last few seasons but he is very coachable and he’s a great athlete, so I’m excited about him being able to play a valuable role as well.”
Hejl, who started his third season as head coach, is also excited about juniors Cameron Enterline, Connor Phelan and Andrew Morton returning to the court.
“All three juniors on this year’s team have been varsity players since their freshman season and I couldn’t be happier with the progress they have made and continue to make everyday in practice.”
The Panthers finished fourth in the league last year with an 8-12 record, ending their season with what Hejl called “a disappointing playoff loss to Paonia on our home court,” and expects the league to be balanced from top to bottom this year, “without a clear-cut favorite.”
“If I had to pick a team to put a target on, it would be Hayden with all of their returning talent,” Hejl said. “Right now, we are the only team that we are focused on and I know that if we play together as a team, we will be a tough match-up for anyone.”
“You never really know how you’ll perform until it’s actually game time but based on what I’ve seen so far, I’m very encouraged about what this team may be capable of.” Hejl said. “We are only a week into practice and you can already sense that these guys have started to turn the corner confidence wise and I attribute a lot of that to coach (Paul) Fortunato and the football staff for getting the year started with a winning football season.
Cody Brunton will be the JV coach and assist Hejl again this year with the coaching duties, as will Hejl’s brother Chris.
“We’re not going to put the cart before the horse but with the right kind of sustained focus and work ethic, this could really be a fun season for a group that seems poised for a breakthrough,” Hejl said. “I can’t wait to see how it unfolds.”