The Bobcats and Broncos could once again battle it out for District 1-4A crown

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FARMINGTON – There is unlikely to be much of a power shift at the top of the District 1-4A boys basketball standings in 2015-2016.

Bloomfield rolled through the season with a 21-8 overall record last year and is more senior laden this season, which is a scary thought for the rest of the district.

But Kirtland Central rebounded from a miserably slow start to stun the Bobcats and win the district title. KC beat Bloomfield twice down the stretch, including once in the state playoffs.

Shiprock struggled to find consistency, never stringing together more than two wins in a row. The Chieftains will look a lot different this season after graduating seven seniors.

The Bobcats are loaded with versatile athletes and have two more seniors than they did last year. But Bloomfield's path to success isn't as clear as it was a couple of weeks ago, as it will likely be without last year's second-leading scorer, Adriano Stevenson, for the entire season following the junior's ankle surgery last week.

Stevenson suffered the ankle injury in a Nov.13 football playoff game and won't be back until the end of the season, if at all, according to Manning.

The team is still talented enough to make a deep playoff run, Manning said, and it will take a "collective effort" to replace Stevenson's scoring.

"We will not use Adriano's injury as an excuse," he said. "We will use it as motivation to get better individually and as a team."

Senior guard Malachi Pablo was Bloomfield's top scorer last season. The lights-out shooter and three-year starter will shoulder an even heavier scoring load this season.

Forwards Christian Chavez and Brendon Charley will also see more offensive opportunities.

Manning said he thinks Charley and Brendan Ramsey gained a lot of valuable experience last year and are ready to contribute on a more consistent basis.

All of that experience should do wonders for a team that suffered a letdown in last year’s state playoffs. The Bobcats' 21-win season came to a screeching halt when Kirtland Central clipped them 45-36 in a first-round playoff defensive battle.

“We couldn’t hit a basket to save our lives in that game,” Manning said. “We definitely feel like our season ended too early. I’m thinking our guys are going to come back with that sour taste in their mouths for this year.”

KC looked like a different team in the second half of last year.

The Broncos brushed off a 1-12 start by winning eight of their final 12 regular-season games. But after besting Bloomfield in the first round at state, KC fell to Hope Christian, the eventual 4A state champion.

Now that KC is better acclimated to second-year coach Brian Dowdy, there should be fewer growing pains for a Broncos team looking to pick up where it left off last year.

“I really think we've got a pretty talented nucleus, athletic wise,” Dowdy said. “Their chemistry has been really good so far, that’s what I’m excited about. They play well together.”

Toughness on defense and an up-tempo offense should be the Broncos’ identity on the court. Dowdy said he’ll be looking to take advantage of his team’s speed by pushing the pace.

“We’ll be hoping to turn rebounds and turnovers into quick scores on the other end,” Dowdy said. “A pretty high-paced team is what I think I’m looking at.”

Point guard Ty Yellowman will embody what Dowdy is trying to accomplish as a solid two-way player.

“Ty’s really improved offensively this offseason,” Dowdy said. “His shot’s improved a lot, and so has his confidence going to the rim. He’s always been solid defensively.”

Forward Bernel Miller returns from a knee injury that cost him the final month of last season. Miller has lost 30 pounds and will again be one of KC’s most consistent shooters.

Senior guard Riley Hamblin will form a gritty defensive backcourt with Yellowman, and sophomore Bryson Dowdy will look to improve on a freshman season where he was named to the all-district first team.

KC will be challenged out of the gate with a difficult nondistrict schedule. The Broncos open the season at home against Los Lunas on Dec. 1.

Shiprock went 14-15 overall and 6-4 in the district last season and now faces a transition period after losing seven seniors.

“Finding those competitive kids to step up is the difficult job for a coach,” Chieftains coach Chester Atcitty said.

Three of those players Atcitty is looking at to step up are seniors Andre Joe, Steven Reed and Antonio Cota.

Some x factors for Shiprock will be first-year varsity seniors Ryan Lee, Arjay Miller and Elijah Harry. All three boys played on the junior varsity squad last year.

“These are some guys who have done some wonderful things at the JV level, and we’re looking to them to be great leaders to their teammates.” Atcitty said. “Hopefully, they motivate us in a positive way.”

The Chieftains figure to be quicker than they were last year, which is a good attribute to have in a district that likes to push the pace.

Turnovers and shot selection are two areas of the game Atcitty will be watching closely in the early going.

“Like every team, we love to shoot the ball, but hopefully, we’ll do it at a higher percentage, shot wise,” Atcitty said. “And can we take care of the ball? That’s the top concern.”

The Chieftains face a brutal schedule this year with just eight home games versus 16 on the road. Only three of those home games come before Feb. 6.

“We’re going to do a lot of travelling this year,” Atcitty said. “That schedule’s going to get us ready. That’s the No. 1 thing, play hard and learn from the early season and the middle of the season to get us ready for the postseason.”

Wingate could be in for a bounce-back campaign after going 11-16 last season. The Bears are well coached under Al Martinez and did finish above .500 in each of the two years prior to 2014-2015.

Thoreau went 19-11 last year, but didn’t make much of an impact in the district at 5-5. The Hawks have looked good in the preseason, according to Atcitty, having beaten his Chieftains in a preseason scrimmage.

Zuni figures to struggle after going 0-10 in the district and losing eight seniors to graduation.

Jake Newby covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.

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