Vail Mountain School enrolls in Basketball 101 |

Vail Mountain School enrolls in Basketball 101

EAST VAIL, Colorado ” Vail Mountain School teacher Ryan Gray yelled encouragingly, “Bad luck,” when a a Gore Ranger’s shot just rimmed out of the hoop during Thursday’s game against Aspen’s freshmen.

The history teacher was one of the more animated fans at Thursday’s game, regularly jumping to his feet when VMS executed well, but the “bad luck” comment comes straight from Gray’s regular background as an assistant soccer coach.

The athletic tradition at VMS is pretty much set for the male athletes in the upper school. Soccer is king, rooted in years of tradition and propelled by the desire to wear orange in the fall.

When the snow flies, well, we are talking about the Mountain School. Skis and snowboards filled the racks outside the school Thursday. VMS is one of the few schools in the state to have three sets of skiing teams ” Nordic, alpine and telemarking.

So how does a basketball team fit into this scenario?

Actually quite well. The first-year VMS boys lost to Aspen’s freshmen Thursday night, 52-40, showing flashes of play not typical of team that played its first game in December, and at other times looking very much like a first-year program.

The Gore Rangers are 1-4 this year, playing freshman teams from around the Western Slope ” very appropriate given that most of VMS’ team is made mostly of underclassmen ” but the mere act of launching a basketball team is a victory of sorts after many years of rumination about getting a squad.

“It’s amazing,” senior point guard Sean Minett said. “It’s a real ambitious, passionate team. All the guys are working their hearts out in practice and the games. We hope we’re setting the tone and attitude for the program. It’s fun.”

Tips from TV

Minett was VMS’ leading scorer Thursday with 15 points. With 2:02 left in the third quarter, he slashed toward the left side of the basket and dished a behind-the-back pass right to Sean McKeever for an easy lay-up.

“I don’t know,” Minett said when asked where that move came from. “I just watched it on the TV.”

While VMS encourages learning from all sources, there’s a whole lot more instruction going on than watching the NBA. Vincent Cisneros is the coach of the first-year team. Just like the kids are thrilled to have a team, Cisneros relishes the opportunity to coach.

“I am so happy, thrilled, proud. I really didn’t expect to get an opportunity like this. I’m totally taking advantage of it,” he said with a smile. “These kids are amazing to work with and have amazing attitudes and their work ethic is great. I’m just real happy to be a part of it.”

Cisneros has some experience with building from scratch. He was a part of Battle Mountain’s program when Philip Tronsrue took over in 2003. The Huskies, having just graduated the likes of Josh Henry and Austin Wignall, were essentially starting over.

Cisneros was a part of the early thumpings as an underclassman and then on the 2005 team which went 16-8 and made the 4A state playoffs for the first time. A year later, Cisneros was an assistant coach for Battle Mountain’s lone Slope-title team.

“It’s a lot of little things that I took away from my high school career, and now I’m trying to get them to do them, Cisneros said. “If you notice your players dribbling with their right hand, push them left. We’ve got to cut off the baseline. The real basic little things are what make your team a lot more cohesive.”

Growing pains

There were times Thursday night when the Gore Rangers understandably didn’t do those little things ” taking care of the ball (to the tune of 31 turnovers), moving away from the ball on offense and general court awareness.

You can drill all you want in practice. Nothing matches game experience and that is in short supply right now in East Vail. Before this year, only McKeever and Alex Bard had played organized basketball. Not surprisingly, McKeever had 12 points Thursday, while Bard had 11.

“Our kids are pretty far behind as far as court awareness, knowledge of the game and that’s going to happen with a first-year team,” Cisneros said. “The more games we play, the more experience we’re going to get.”

VMS plays at Colorado Academy on Saturday and will play younger squads from Battle Mountain, Eagle Valley and Vail Christian one more time before the season ends. Likely, the Gore Rangers will lose more than they win.

That fine and what’s also good is what the team was doing after Thursday night’s loss to Aspen ” shooting hoops in the auxiliary gym, leaving the skis and snowboards in their racks and the soccer pitch idle outside.

Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or

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