With three of their five rival Intermountain League teams already commanding respect through top-10 inclusion in the preseason CHSAANow.com Class 3A girls’ basketball poll, the Bayfield High School girls basketball team’s quest for a state tournament berth – not achieved since an opening round-of-32 appearance ending the 2012-13 season – will be as challenging this winter as ever.
But with multiple pieces of last year’s promising squad expected to return for the 2019-20 campaign, Wolverines basketball should be primed to at least push for the program’s first winning season since the historic 2011-12 bunch went 20-5 and reached the double-elimination Great Eight held in Fort Collins. BHS would lose to Eaton and Denver-based Bishop Machebeuf inside Colorado State University’s Moby Arena.
“That’s really what we’re looking for from the girls,” said third-year head coach Josh Kitchen of a crew which finished 7-13 overall last season and matched Montezuma-Cortez’s fourth-place 3-7 mark in regular-season league play before then losing 45-25 to the Panthers in the IML District Tournament’s play-in phase.
“It was a young team out there doing a lot of things I was happy to see,” Kitchen said. “But I think our biggest thing is just trying to stay focused. Again, we were a young team, and as that, sometimes you can lose that focus; we’re really going to have to show up and play as a team.”
“We turned the ball over too much? Yeah. Shoot poorly? Sometimes we did. Simple things like that make the difference. And I think we’ve known all along that no matter who we play we’re going to grow as a team. That’s the key.”
And after losing just two seniors, guard Tymbree Florian and guard/forward Nyana Salazar to graduation, BHS should progress behind potentially eight returning now-juniors, including guards Madison Wells and Brooke Merchant, feisty guard/forwards Cayanne Carlson and Aubree Farmer, plus center Macee Schulz, not long removed from flexing her hops along with Merchant at the State Volleyball Championships in Denver.
Classmates Brinlee Owens, Lakin Hoover and Rachel Morris are also expected back, as well as sophomore post Abby Tate, a 6-foot complement to Schulz. And after a strong rookie season in 2018-19, sophomore guard Maddy Oltmanns should again provide needed backcourt punch but was banged up late in volleyball.
She observed state mainly from the Wolverines’ bench, and could still be on the mend when Bayfield tips the new season off at 7 p.m. Tuesday inside BHS Gymnasium against Farmington Navajo Prep.
Longtime head coach Rainy Crisp’s Eagles went 21-10 overall, including a 75-44 rout of Bayfield in Farmington last season and a first-place 9-1 in NMAA District 1-3A, bettering runner-up Tohatchi by a game and third-place Crownpoint by two.
But a 57-49 loss to Las Vegas Robertson in the state championships’ semifinals ended Navajo Prep’s season, and the Cardinals then avenged their District 2 Tournament title-game loss to Santa Fe Indian School in the grand finale.
“We’re expecting some growing pains,” said Kitchen, again to be assisted by Jamie Wursten and Nate Tate. “But the girls are working hard at it and we’re going to get there. I believe we can, but we’ve got to be patient.”
The Wolverines will then travel to the Dec. 13-14 Buena Vista Invitational before continuing their early-season homestand on the 17th against reclassified 2A Monticello, Utah, and on the 19th versus 3A Blanding, Utah’s San Juan. Tipoff for the former is currently set for 7 p.m., and the latter 5:30, as Bayfield wraps up the “old year” half of its schedule.
MHS struggled to finish 9-15 overall in 2018-19 but qualified for the UHSAA Class 1A State Tournament and went 1-2 losing to Wendover, defeating Hildale Water Canyon and losing to Orderville Valley. SJHS, meanwhile, dropped four of its last five – including a season-ending, first-round 3A state loss to Salt Lake City Judge Memorial – but still ended up 12-11.
“Pretty high-quality competition for us; we’re really going to have to show up and perform,” Kitchen said. “We’re going to play with heart, and that’s what’s going to get us through.”