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Defending state champs on opposite ends of spectrum as winter practice begins
Winter sports officially begin practice Friday, and two of the area’s defending state champions will find themselves starting from completely different positions.
At Lewis-Palmer, the boys’ basketball team loses one of the area’s all-time best in Josh Scott, but returns a pair of superstar seniors in Josh’s brother, Jordan, and last year’s championship game hero, Justin Smith.
“I’m pumped,” said Smith, who verbally committed to the NCAA Division I program at Idaho State last month. “It’s going to be a fun season. We’ve been going for a while, but it will be good to officially start it.”
The Rangers, who topped Sierra in the 4A championship game 44-43 on Smith’s 3-pointer in the final minute, have played in four consecutive semifinals and are a good bet to return. The key will be finding an impact newcomer or two, which is about eight fewer than the Air Academy girls will be seeking.
The Kadets, who waltzed to a 4A title behind an eight-player rotation comprised entirely of seniors, lose more than 93 percent of their scoring from a year ago.
The challenge of starting over has coach Bob Wingett as excited as ever, and he has front-loaded the schedule in a way that Air Academy will open with seven 5A teams before traveling to traditional 4A power Pueblo West. This all takes place before Christmas.
“Just because that group left, we feel like if you want to be the best, you’ve got to play the best,” Wingett said.
In addition to graduation, the Kadets have been further hit by an ACL injury to guard Kylee Barry and several players who have opted to focus on club field hockey and lacrosse.
Wingett will start the rebuilding process around 6-foot-2 sophomore Kassady Huffman, senior forward Justine Jenkinson and a rotation that will include as many as five sophomores and a freshman.
“It’s such a great challenge,” Wingett said. “This group is full of girls who hang on every word that me and my coaching staff tell them. They give great effort, and that’s all we can ask.
“December might be a bit of a struggle, but it’s going to be fun. And who knows, maybe we’ll progress faster than we thought.”