Changes highlight District 1-5A boys basketball

Karl Schneider
Farmington's Berrett Bentley drives around Gallup's Colton Lowley for a layup in their 5A state quarterfinal game at The Pit in Albuquerque on March 11.

FARMINGTON – Questions surround the 2015-16 boys basketball season in District 1-5A.

Gallup was the dominant force in the district last season, but a change in head coach for the Bengals may open the door for Farmington, which showed big improvements last season.

Piedra Vista will look much different than a season ago after losing the bulk of its core to graduation.

And a coaching change at Aztec may be what the Tigers need to turn the program around, while Andrew Blanco enters his second season at Miyamura and returns most of last year’s squad.

Farmington finished the 2014-15 season with a record of 20-10 and reached the 5A quarterfinals, where it fell to Gallup 61-59 when the Bengals' Colton Lowley hit a buzzer beater to win the game.

The Scorpions enter this season after losing their three captains from last year’s team to graduation. Returning to lead Farmington in 2015-16 will be seven seniors, led by Barrett Bentley, Clayton Corley and Tyren King.The Scorps also will be looking to 6-foot-5 junior David Riley to take on a bigger role in the post.

“We’re really looking at not being a one-dimensional team, but a team with a lot of kids who can come in and contribute,” Farmington head coach Paul Corley said.

The Scorps got their first taste of competition over the weekend, scrimmaging Shiprock and Thoreau. Corley said he was impressed with how the scrimmage went, and it gave him a chance to take a look at some of his players and what they’ll try to do this season.

Farmington won’t ease its way into the season, opening on the road at Grants on Tuesday.

“They’ll be ranked really high, probably No. 1 or 2 in the state, so we’ll see where we match up with them right away,” Corley said. “We just want to take care of ourselves for now. We’ve been working on our defense and rebounding a lot, and the schedule will take care of itself.”

Graduation gutted PV, which went 13-16 last year and lost 55-53 in the first round of the state tournament in Grants. The Panthers lost five players to graduation, which included the team’s first-, second- and fourth-leading scorers.

Back to take on larger roles will be seniors Keegan Acosta and Jimmy Wood, who both saw time in the starting lineup last year.

Piedra Vista's Keegan Acosta dribbles the ball on Feb. 24 during a game against Aztec at Jerry A. Conner Fieldhouse in Farmington.

PV head coach Adam Huff said he also expects sophomore Jerrett Graham to be a major producer this season.

“He played varsity last year and really played well down the stretch in the district tournament and in the playoffs,” Huff said of Graham. “He really matured and blossomed this summer.”

Like Farmington, PV will open its season at Grants, but not until Dec. 1. It will be the first game of a difficult nondistrict schedule for the Panthers.

“It’s tough. I haven’t been light on any of it,” Huff said of PV’s schedule. “We have a schedule that’s going to get us ready for a tough district.”

Aztec comes into the season with Jeremy Archuleta taking over the program. It’s Archuleta’s first head coaching job, and he’ll be tasked with turning around a program that hasn’t had a winning season since the 2010-11 season — when the Tigers finished 16-9 — and has only had two seasons with more than 10 wins in the last 10 seasons. Aztec finished last season 10-18, and being more disciplined on and off the court is a key focus for Archuleta as he tries to change the culture of the program.

Along with a more disciplined approach, Archuleta plans to slow down the tempo and control the game in a half-court offense.

“We want to slow the ball down and make teams come out and guard us,” Archuleta said. “It seems like everyone wants to run and gun, and we want to slow it down and take them out of their comfort zone.”

Leading the way for the Tigers this season will be seniors Lindsey Larabee, Preston Daughtry and Canyon Goimerac.

Aztec's Preston Daugherty, right, takes the ball down court on Feb. 24 during a game against Piedra Vista at Jerry A. Conner Fieldhouse in Farmington.

In addition to the changes in personnel and style, the Tigers also loaded up their nondistrict schedule to get ready for the challenges of District 1-5A.

“We had a couple of local teams on the schedule, but we replaced them to make a tougher schedule,” Archuleta said. “We’ll be going to a tournament in Rio Rancho, and that will have the top teams in the state. Based on our schedule, we have the games we want to get us ready for the district.”

But again, to claim the district title, it appears the San Juan County schools will have to go through Gallup. The Bengals, who reached the state championship game last year before falling to Centennial and finishing the season with a 29-2 record, lost six seniors from that squad.

While most teams would be scrambling after losing that kind of leadership, Gallup welcomes back a senior trio of Lowley — who was a first team all-state selection last season — Matt Begay and Ronald Lee, who both landed on the all-state second team a year ago.

But Gallup will be dealing with the loss of one of the state’s best coaches in Domonic Romero. Romero spent seven seasons in Gallup, leading the Bengals to an overall record of 146-59 and two state title games. After last season, Romero left his job at Gallup to become the principal at Thoreau High School.

Miyamura will also present a challenge in the district.

The Patriots finished last season 6-21. But last season they were a young team learning the system of a new coach.

This year, Miyamura is a year older and more experienced, with emerging guards Jason Upshaw and Chandler Charles taking charge.

“I think it is the toughest district in our classification,” Huff said of District 1-5A. “We have the runner-up (Gallup) coming back, and yeah, they lost their coach, but they’re still going to be very good. Farmington keeps getting better every year. I don’t know what Aztec and Miyamura are going to have, but we have to go play at their places, and it’s not easy getting wins on the road.”

Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times He can be reached at 505-564-4648.