DENVER - After losing six seniors from last year’s Lewis-Palmer squad that played to the 4A state title game, not many people could have predicted the success of the 2017-18 Rangers. Despite their inexperience with just two returning starters and two other players who appeared in 19 or more games, Lewis-Palmer returned to the state title game after a 21-2 regular season.
And although the Rangers suffered a heartbreaker in the final seconds of a 62-59 loss to Longmont on Saturday in the 4A state championship, here’s the good news for Lewis-Palmer basketball team - the Rangers retain all the right cards to be right back at the Coliseum next year.
Coach Bill Benton said he was somewhat surprised at how quickly his team put the pieces together this season after losing so many players, but also said he had a feeling his team would be playing for another state championship.
“I knew we had talent and some guys who work really hard, I just didn’t think they would put it together as quickly as they did,” Benton said. Now with 10 returning men, the door is wide open for a potential third-straight state title game appearance for Lewis-Palmer.
“These guys have handled success and they’ve handled struggle, so I’m excited for what’s next,” he said. “Bringing back 10 guys is great, but you also know we are going to get everybody’s best game every night.
“We talk all the time, being in this position in the last 10 years, our bull's-eye is huge,” Benton said. “We talk about having to wear that bull's-eye and embracing it, but even when you’re being hunted you still have to go hunt.”
The Rangers will welcome back a large core of talented juniors, led by Joel Scott and Matthew Ragsdale, who lead the team in scoring.
“We’ve all been playing together since we were little kids in club ball and we just gel with each other and it shows on the court,” Scott said, “so I think we are going to come back very strong next year.”
Lewis-Palmer is losing a pair of senior starters in Salem Nehme and Carter Kreischer.
“They have a big impact on our team,” Scott said. “They’re great leaders and we’re going to miss them so much. I’m not sure what we’re going to do without them, but we’ll figure it out.”
But what Benton is most excited about is other players who don’t necessarily show up on every stat line, getting valuable experience on a young squad.
“It’s exciting for us to know we have some other young guys coming back, and exciting to think here’s the group that we have around them,” Benton said. “We have some freshmen and sophomores who I know want to be able to be here, so we’re looking for some good competition this summer.”
His junior core of Ethan Forrester, Noah Baca, Dominic Roma, Tre McCullough, Loren Phillips, and sophomores Paxton Crowell and Kyle Berry, stepped in throughout the season to bring immense depth to the Rangers squad.
“A lot can happen in a year, but we are still going to be Lewis-Palmer, and we are still going to have the bull's-eye on our back,” Benton said.