Vail Christian’s Sheldon Kuhns and the road to win No. 200
By the way, the Saints advance in districts in a ho-hum way
Vail Christian coach Sheldon Kuhns hit career win No. 200 on Tuesday night with his team’s victory over Rangely.
Vail Christian basketball is one of the surprise teams of the season — I see you, Battle Mountain girls’ basketball. On the other hand, should the Saints be a surprise?
One of the reasons Kuhns is celebrating 200 wins — aside from being a perfect 1-0 as the girls’ basketball coach last season — is that he’s built a program at Vail Christian.
Kuhns has made basketball a part of Vail Christian culture, just like David Cope has at Battle Mountain with soccer. There is a system of play, a culture — just check out the locker room at Vail Christian with the pictures of all the alumni — and an expectation of success.
It’s easy to write, but not easy to do.
This has been, tactfully put, a process. A lot of blood, sweat and tears have gone into Kuhns’ 200 wins.
In the old days when dinosaurs roamed the earth, the Saints played in the 1A Mountain League, and likely one of the biggest moments in Kuhns’ career came in a 56-41 loss to Crested Butte on Jan. 26, 2008.
A big reason the Saints lost that game was that Jaryd Francis, one of the most decorated players in school history, got in foul trouble and wasn’t on the court for a good portion of the game.
When Kuhns is upset he is diplomatic — though his face is bit purple — in postgame with the Vail Daily. After this loss, he wasn’t — in a mild way. (This moment was nothing like many much louder and more colorful postgame eruptions by coaches I’ve seen.)
“Jaryd’s got to be smarter, and you can print that. He’s got to be out there (on the court).”
That, folks, was a volcanic eruption, and it got Kuhns in some hot water with the school and Francis’ parents. For the record, everyone has kissed and made up.
Kuhns wouldn’t likely phrase postgame like that again — he hasn’t since — but it is a defining moment for Saints basketball. That is the moment that Vail Christian went from wanting to be a good program to becoming a good program with a burning desire to win.
Francis, to this day, remains the program’s leading scorer and his photo remains on the wall in the Saints’ locker room in their “new” digs on campus.
DeBeque has one heckuva team this season, beating Vail Christian, 64-60, in a thriller. DeBeque has a great team that should go far during the 1A playoffs next month.
The interesting thing about that game was that it was the first time in 14 years the Dragons had beaten the Saints. Yep, 14 years, Sheldon.
You see DeBeque was one of those teams that tormented Vail Christian in the early years. Kuhns and Vail Christian … Could. Not. Beat. DeBeque. The Saints were 0-10 against DeBeque until Jan. 20, 2006, when the Saints finally beat the Dragons, 69-37.
It doesn’t matter what school or what sport, there always is a team with your number. It’s been DeBeque, Ridgway and Hayden at various points during Kuhns’ tenure.
Against Ridgway, Jonathan Armstead had the Hail Mary on Jan. 7, 2005, to beat the Demons, 50-46, in overtime for the first time. Armstead chucked the ball to Josh Glandorf, who got it via a Ridgway defender’s leg to Caleb Pearson for the game-winner. That’s just exactly how Kuhns drew it up — not.
Even before the Saints moved up to 2A, they had been playing the Hayden annually because of geography and got a big goose egg for their troubles.
Before one of those losses, Vail Christian point guard Will Parker had a broken nose and needed a nose guard to play. Kuhns and I spent most of the girls’ game preceding the upcoming contest Googling local sporting-goods stores on our BlackBerrys — yes, we are dating ourselves — for a nose guard so that Parker could play.
No dice and the Saints lost to Hayden … again.
So on Jan. 24, 2014, there was much rejoicing after a 59-48 win against the Tigers. And that’s why we call Hayden games the Will Parker Nose Guard Rivalry.
Oh, the humanity.
Districts became a dirty word at Vail Christian because Kuhns’ Saints kept knocking on the door of qualifying for regionals, now the 32-team field of the state tournament, and kept getting the door slammed in their collective faces.
When the Saints weren’t good, they played well and lost in excruciating fashion. When the Saints legitimately had a shot of being in the top-however-many-teams go to regionals, they found an equally heartbreaking way to lose.
It ended on March 1, 2013, when the Saints bludgeoned Plateau Valley, 60-29. The ironic thing was that the actual Saints really didn’t care about the curse, but the coach and the reporter were over the moon.
Irony No. 2: In winning his 200th game, Kuhns and the Saints just qualified for state.
State and beyond
Once the distract dam broke, the 1A state tournament followed after the 2013 and 2014 seasons. The 2013 Saints (20-5) are probably the best basketball team in school history. The No. 6-ranked Saints upset No. 3 Fleming, 67-58, in the Elite Eight and finished third in the state by beating Caliche, 87-76. (I just got called for two fouls by typing Caliche. That game was quite the foul-fest.)
Having coached Ellsworths (Austin and Sug), Moritzes (Sebastian and Alec) and Emmers (Teller and Joseph) just to name a few siblings, Kuhns’ joy in the job has doubtless been greater, coaching his own kids, Ethan, Class of 2018, and Abby, Class of 2020, at Vail Christian. No mention of the coach is complete without his better half, Melita, who has seen more basketball than any human should while keeping the book.
Congratulations to Sheldon and all the Kuhns.
Here’s to another 200 more.