FARMINGTON — A shaken up District 1-5A comes with many question marks in 2016-2017, but Farmington coach Paul Corley hopes his boys basketball team isn't one of them.
The Scorpions went 23-3 last year and finished the season unbeaten in district play. Former team captains Berrett Bentley and Tyren King have graduated, but the Scorps still seem to have enough firepower to keep the district title in Farmington for another year.
"I got a great group of seniors," Corley said. "I have David Riley, one of the best post players in the state, and he's kind of our x-factor. We're also going to have great leadership from Nick Granger and Sol Rascon. Those three really did a lot this summer to help us grow."
With last year's 4A state playoff teams Bloomfield and Kirtland Central entering the fray, Aztec hiring a new coach and Gallup riding a 10-year streak of winning seasons, there's an element of unpredictability in 1-5A this season. But Corley said he's just worried about getting his players to buy into his brand of basketball.
"Home court's going to be big, that's what it's going to come down to," Corley said. "We're just preaching to our kids to play solid defense and take good care of the basketball. It's all about possessions and making sure they have positive possessions."
Kirtland Central's 12-16 record from a season ago was a bit deceiving. The Broncos played one of the toughest nondistrict schedules in all of 4A, battling with the likes of Cleveland, Los Lunas and West Las Vegas — schools that all played deep into the state playoffs of their respective classes.
Now in 5A, Broncos coach Brian Dowdy said his players are confident they can not only compete, but win.
"My first two years we had a really tough schedule. I think MaxPreps had us second both years in strength of schedule next to Hope Christian in 4A," Dowdy said. "I know we're the smallest school in the classification, but we've already kind of made 'no excuses' our mantra. The boys believe, and I think that's the biggest thing."
Junior Bryson Dowdy, the coach's son, led KC in points, rebounds, steals and blocks per game last year.
In the wake of Ty Yellowman's graduation, coach Dowdy said he foresees junior Jariah Setzer becoming an exciting player to watch, as well as a true point guard capable of facilitating KC's offense.
Randy Crockett will be the coaching successor to Devon Manning in Bloomfield, and Crockett has some big shoes to fill after Manning managed a 41-16 combined record over the past two seasons.
Crockett, an assistant under Manning for the past five years, said he doesn't plan to shake things up very much.
"I think you'll see the same type of aggressive defense," Crockett said. "Maybe a little bit more full-court pressure than what we've done in the past, but very similar to what coach Manning ran."
Bloomfield reached the state quarterfinals for the first time in school history last season, and returning from that team will be versatile guard/forward Adriano Stevenson, who missed most of last season with a leg injury suffered while playing for the football team.
Stevenson should be one of the best shooters on a team that Crockett expects to be adept at shooting the ball.
"Adriano's going to be one of our offensive leaders, for sure," Crockett said. "He's a terrific outside shooter, he sees the court really well and passes the ball really well. But we got four other seniors, as well, who have a lot of experience, so we're looking for those guys to do a lot, too."
Aztec football coach Matthew Steinfeldt decided in June to also assume the school's basketball head coaching vacancy, and he'll guide a Tigers team that finished with only one win in the 2015-2016 campaign.
But Steinfeldt is enthusiastic about the new season, saying he expects his team's defense to be its backbone.
"We have some really great athletes and big-bodied kids. A lot of these kids previously played football," Steinfeldt said. "They're gonna look a little different on the basketball floor, because they're gonna be a little taller, a little stockier. You can see the weight room in them. I think that's gonna be huge for our defense."
Steinfeldt said he expects his aggressive, man-to-man defense to keep Aztec in close games. But to actually win some of those games, someone's going to need to step up on offense.
The Tigers lost more than 27 points per game when Lindsey Larabee and Preston Daughtry left as seniors. Steinfeldt said he hopes the Tigers can pose match-up problems by utilizing their athletic big-man combination of Cody Smith and Tanner Brooks in the offensive post.
Steinfeldt also said he doesn't know whether Aztec will win two games, five games, 10 games or 20 games, but he does know the Tigers will remain confident all season, regardless of their win-loss total.
"These are kids who think there's a chance to go out there and compete," Steinfeldt said. "I believe we're going to compete in most of our games. We're going to first get in games, keep them close and then we're going to find ways to win them as we start to manufacture some things on offense."
Jake Newby covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.