Winter prep previews: Western Slope League wide open as Vail Christian boys basketball kicks off season
Saints play Lake County at home on Friday night to open 2022-2023 year
Usually, when a team returns two players with meaningful varsity minutes from the previous season, the current group gets written off. For the Vail Christian boys basketball team, which kicks off its season with a pair of home games Friday night (7:30 p.m. against Lake County) and Saturday afternoon (3:30 p.m. against Clear Creek), that assessment isn’t really a fair one.
Even after graduating eight seniors from a 15-9 team that lost to No. 1 Yuma in the 2A Region 1 championship, Sheldon Kuhns, entering his 23rd and final season at the helm, believes his talented, young group of players can contend in the wide-open Western Slope League.
“We hope to contend for a league championship,” Kuhns, the only coach in program history, said. “The goal is to be playing our best basketball in February for playoff run.”
Sure, it hurts to lose leading scorer Leo Rothenberg, leading rebounder Sean Boselli and the team’s best defender in Vinny Nowicki, but it’s the collective loss of depth that will need to be addressed if the Saints are to succeed this season.
“We could do a lot of different things — full court pressing, etc,” the coach said of last year’s bunch. “Until we build that depth back again, we’re somewhat limited. I still think we have a chance to be pretty good this year, it’s just going to be a little bit different approach.”
Support Local Journalism
The Saints will be led by sharpshooter Quinn Downey, who’s worked over the summer to rally the troops and round out his own game.
“He’s a stud,” the coach said. “His leadership ability has come out now that he’s a senior, and I think he’s become a more complete player on the defensive end and (with his) ball handling. He’s refined his game. He’s not just a catch-and-shoot player on the wing. He’s a complete player.”
Another key piece will be Theo Moritz. “When all those seniors graduated, he really had a breakout football season and I think you’re going to see the same thing in basketball,” Kuhns predicted of the 5-foot-10-inch guard.
“I think the door’s open for us to do some special things this year because we have good leadership and opportunities for younger guys to step in and make us better than we were.”
Perennially characterized by guard play, the 2022-23 Saints will add some height down low in three-sport athlete Jack Prior and 6-foot-6-inch post Philip Shchetinin.
“They really add size that we’ve been lacking the last few years,” Kuhns said. The Saints will also benefit from the addition of Will Neumann and André Skweir, two all-around guard/forwards Kuhns describes as “plug-and-play” guys.
“Will is the guy who can replace Vinny’s defense prowess. He’s a really good shooter, too. He’s a complete basketball player,” Kuhns noted. “Andre’s very interchangeable — can play the perimeter, down in the post — a really good athlete and when he becomes 100% (from an injury from last year) I think he’ll be a big difference maker for us.”
Going out on top?
Kuhn — who has coached every game in Vail Christian’s history except its first four and grew a program that attained eight wins in its first four seasons to one that has gone 18-6, 17-7, 17-5, 8-5 and 15-9 in the last five — doesn’t want the season’s narrative to be some Kobe Bryant retirement tour.
“I don’t want to make this season about Coach Kuhns’ last year. This is about this year’s version of the Vail Christian boys basketball team,” he said.
“Everybody wants to end their career like John Elway, but to me, wins and losses aren’t going to define my career. It’s been always about the team and building relationships and doing the best to our ability on the floor, and I want to continue that this year. Be about the team, guys getting better, and doing everything we can to win a championship.”
With the departure of league-power Meeker and another mainstay in Cedaredge to the 3A ranks, the 2A Western Slope League is up for grabs.
“That changes our league. They’ve really been the class of our league,” he said of the Cowboys. “They were the big dog forever.”
Kuhns thinks Plateau Valley and Vail Mountain School could be solid contenders, but hesitates to make any hard and fast predictions. The Gore Rangers, for instance, will have to adjust to life after Cole Pattison.
“He’s really hard to replace — he’s a special guy, both offensively and defensively,” Kuhns commented. “They had some solid guys at the younger level. They’re well-coached — Caleb’s got a good thing going over there, he knows what he’s doing. We won’t see them until February. I expect by then, they’ll be pretty solid.”
Pleased with the chemistry his own team has shown in preseason scrimmages, Kuhns believes his team is well-positioned to develop as the year progresses.
“Hopefully we can get a couple wins early and build that confidence,” he said. “I think we really have a chance to improve as the year goes on. Get better every game.”