Vail Mountain basketball beats Meeker; Gore Rangers, Saints on a collision course?
Gore Rangers take down Cowboys, 42-39
The Vail Mountain School basketball team beat Meeker, 42-39, in Meeker on Wednesday night to beat Meeker for the second straight time, dating back to districts last year when they beat Meeker.
Yes, Meeker is on the brain in the 2A basketball scene. VMS faced the Cowboys Wednesday and Meeker’s coming to Vail Christian, a game of interest to the Gore Rangers, on Saturday as the small-school Slope is coming down to a photo finish in the next eight days or so.
A look at the standings has Vail Christian at 3-0 in the league with VMS and Meeker at 3-1 (the Gore Rangers hold the tiebreaker due to Wednesday’s win) and West Grand at 4-2.
But back to the subject
Vail Mountain and Vail Christian are rivals, but Gore Rangers and Saints agree on one thing — Meeker is not their favorite basketball team.
The Cowboys and Paonia (no longer a member of the 2A Slope due to realignment) have just beaten the snot out of VMS and Vail Christian through the years.
Just a sampling: Meeker beat VMS, 86-46 in 2019 and 72-53 in 2018. Some more context: Vail Christian has five wins over Meeker in its history. That sounds nice until one realizes the Saints and Cowboys have have played annually since Vail Christian basketball started in the late-1990s. Ouch.
Therefore, any win over Meeker must be properly observed.
OK, we feel better after shooting off some fireworks. On a serious note, VMS hoops fans doubtless remember that the Gore Rangers upset Meeker during last year’s district championship game.
To date, the 2019-20 season was the highwater mark for VMS basketball. After a 9-9 regular season and two weeks off for Intraterm — we’ll explain later — the Gore Rangers went on a run in districts, beating Paonia, Vail Christian and Meeker for the school’s first major championship in the sport.
Was that a one-off or the beginning of something in East Vail?
The Gore Rangers are thinking that it’s the latter after a 3-1 start in the Slope with a win over Meeker. Yes, maybe, VMS did get hot at the right time last year, but it wasn’t a fluke.
And that’s because the Gore Rangers returned pretty much everyone from last year’s team. This is not the traditional rebuild after a district title. Coach Caleb Florence has a veteran starting lineup in Becker Dienst, Cole and MacKay Pattison, Devin Yarde and Beck Sapp.
“We took over the program last year with Andrew Behrendt, my assistant coach and JV coach,” VMS coach Caleb Florence said. “Our goal was not only to be good for a year. We want to start putting in systems and a winning culture.”
While VMS basketball will always be a distant second to snowsports in the school’s culture during the winter, this is the first time the Gore Rangers return the heart of a team. (Has a VMS basketball team ever had more playing experience on the roster than Vail Christian? Nope. This is the year.)
VMS also doesn’t have to contend with Intraterm, a week of learning outside of the classroom in nonconvential settings. (Florence helped teach a course on financial literacy during Intraterm this year.)
While VMS students have a great experience with Intraterm, it does put a crimp in basketball. Traditionally, VMS would play its entire season before January ended, take two weeks off for Intraterm and then start the playoffs, not an ideal scenario from the sporting view.
Of course, Florence supports the mission of Intraterm and realizes that it’s a special part of the Vail Mountain School experience, but, thanks to COVID (yes, that’s weird), Intraterm has been completed and the Gore Rangers have the luxury of having an undivided focus for the stretch drive of the regular season and the possible postseason.
Battle of the Vails?
Vail Mountain will defend as district champions because, well, the district ain’t holding a tournament in Olathe this year. There’s the possibility of a playoff game between the two top teams in the league on March 6, but not the full tourney. Without the second shot at districts, the regular season counts toward the 24-team state field (down from 32 in 2A in 2020).
VMS hosts Soroco on Friday. While the Gore Rangers will be trying to beat the Rams on Senior Night, they’ll also be rooting for the Saints as they play at West Grand. Politics and sports make for strange bedfellows. A Mustangs loss would be their third and eliminate them from title contention.
Vail Christian hosts Meeker on Saturday, and, yep, Gore Rangers fans, you are rooting for Vail Christian to give Meeker a second loss. If Vail Mountain wins out against Soroco and North Park weekend after next and Vail Christian does its business — beating West Grand, Meeker and Soroco — the Gore Rangers and Saints meet for the league title, and the accompanying automatic state berth, in Edwards on March 4.