BASKETBALL

Marv Sanders Invitational opens Thursday at Farmington High

Steven Bortstein
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON − Eight teams from across the southwest, as well as a pair of local boys basketball teams, will take part in the annual Marv Sanders Invitational Tournament, which gets underway Thursday at Farmington High School's Scorpion Arena.

The three-day event tips off at 1:30 p.m. Thursday with a matchup featuring the Boulder Creek (Arizona) Jaguars facing the Durango Demons. Following that game, the Shiprock Chieftains will try to snap a four-game losing streak when they face the Chaparral (Colo.) Wolverines.

Later Thursday, it will be the Gallup Bengals taking on the Westlake (Utah) Thunder, followed by the Scorpions hosting the Window Rock (Arizona) Fighting Scouts.

The tournament is named in honor of the late basketball coach, who won more 800 boys basketball games, primarily during a 23-year stint at Farmington High, where he led the Scorpions to two state titles in 1982 and 1986.

"We've brought in some outstanding programs to help bolster the lineup for the tournament," said Farmington head coach Larry-Don Chitty. "Our athletic department is working hard to get this tournament back to the level where it's the premier tournament in this region."

Here's a look at the first-round matchups for Thursday's action.

Boulder Creek Jaguars vs. Durango Demons

The Jaguars, hailing from Anthem, Arizona, have a 4-0 record to start the season, with their most recent win coming Thursday against Westwood High by a final of 76-49. Led by junior Rowan McKenzie, the Jaguars had a record of 23-9 last season before being knocked out of the Conference 6A state postseason in the semifinals against Hamilton High.

McKenzie is averaging more than 15 points a game this season, while sophomore Bhenasia Andrew is scoring more than 14 points a game. Currently one of the top-ranked boys teams in the state, the Jaguars are coached by Justin Collard.

The Demons, with a record of 2-4 this season, are coming off a blowout loss in their most recent game against the Far Northeast Warriors out of Denver. They finished 1-2 in their most recent tournament, the Mustang Classic held at Ponderosa High School.

Chaparral Wolverines vs. Shiprock Chieftains

Larenson Henderson makes his return to the Scorpion Arena as he guides the Chieftains team into a first-round clash with Chaparral High School.

Henderson, who coached the Lady Scorpions for four seasons, recently returned to Shiprock to coach the boys team. Henderson coached the Lady Chieftains for six seasons, winning 154 games and losing only 29. Henderson's girls basketball teams at Shiprock reached the state finals four times and brought home the coveted blue trophy in Class 4A in 2017, beating Hope Christian.

Durango's Dylan Bettin (4) tries a jump shot in front of a pair of Olathe defenders during a tournament game on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021. The Demons are one of eight teams competing this week in the Marv Sanders Memorial Invitational, which begins Thursday at Scorpion Arena.

The Shiprock boys team has been hit by injuries early in this season and are hoping to bounce back into the win column after being blown out at home last weekend by Navajo Prep.

Chaparral, with a record of 2-3 this season, is led by junior Gavin Carter and senior Ben Morris, each scoring about 10 points per game. The Wolverines are coming into the tournament off a 52-35 win last weekend over winless George Washington High out of Denver.

Chaparral advanced to the final four in last season's Class 5A Boys Basketball State Tournament before being eliminated by Fossil Ridge.

Westlake Thunder vs. Gallup Bengals

The Westlake High School boys basketball team brings a solid 5-1 record into this weekend's tournament action, facing last year's District 1-4A champion Gallup in Thursday's opening round.

The Bengals, who posted a 9-1 mark last season in district play before being eliminated in the state tournament by Belen, are off to a 2-3 start to this season. Coached by Joshua Dunlap, Gallup went 1-2 in last year's Sanders Invitational, beating Durango before losing to both Navajo Prep and the Scorpions.

The Westlake Thunder opened the season with five straight wins before losing their most recent contest, a 56-54 decision on the road against Layton. Coached by Nate Carling, the Thunder advanced to Utah's Class 6A semifinals last year before losing to Corner Canyon by a final of 68-60.

Window Rock Fighting Scouts vs. Farmington Scorpions

Farmington head coach Chitty hasn't tried to shy away from facing the best competition available this season. The Scorpions have played only a handful of games this season, are hoping the Sanders Invitational will provide them with a look at what they need to do to compete at the highest level this season.

Farmington comes into the tournament with only three games under their belt, with their most recent contest Tuesday night on the road against Bloomfield. The Fighting Scouts, with a record of 2-2 this season and led by senior Taylor Begay, are looking to extend their win streak to three straight when they face the Scorpions.

"As we've tried to beef up our schedule, part of it was making the tournament much more difficult," Chitty said. "While I'm anxious to see how we do against these bigger and better programs, I know our guys are excited to get out there and match up with some really good teams this weekend."

Window Rock went 12-12 last season under head coach Gilbert Clauschee. This will be the first meeting between Farmington and Window Rock since the Fighting Scouts beat the Scorpions 48-46 during a tournament game on Jan. 6, 2012.

"They normally have a huge following, so we hope our fans can come and match their energy, which should make for a great atmosphere," Chitty said.

For more information on the tournament schedule, check out Farmington High School's boys basketball official page at MaxPreps.com.