The worst feeling Rampart coach Patrick Simpson had all of last season was when his boys' basketball players felt the best about themselves.
The Rams had won nine of 13 to start the season, felt a little complacent, and then, once again, fell apart in league play
After three years near the basement of the league, however, Simpson said his team is "finally ready" to compete for a title in the wide-open 5A Metro League.
"It's a very competitive league, and I think it will be a challenge for both sides on any night. For us, we need to just stay driven," said Simpson, whose teams have gone 0-10, 1-9 and 2-8 in league play. "We can't start feeling satisfied with what we've done, or this league will tear you apart."
Frankly, nobody inside the Rampart locker room wants to know what that'll feel like for the fourth straight season.
The Rams, who were eliminated in the first round of the state playoffs last season, are 11-2 headed into league play.
"We have to stay focused, maybe even more so once league starts," said Rampart's leading scorer Donovan Oldham, who is averaging 17.2 points and 7.8 rebounds. "This season we are more talented and we are deeper than we have been in a long time."
Rampart's red-hot start has been fueled by its three returning starters, seven returning letter-winners and the arrival of the Hacker brothers, Cameron and Clayton, whose family moved out of Fountain-Fort Carson to the Rampart area last summer.
"It won't be an easy road for us though. We know that," Simpson said, "It won't be for any team in this league."
Elsewhere, Doherty (7-6) may be one of the most talented teams in the league, at least on paper, but appear to be a bit jumbled on the floor.
After starting two freshmen and two sophomores earlier in the year, Spartans coach James Lane is trying to tweak the offensive scheme, largely due the arrival of TCA transfer Jason Anderson, a 6-foot-8 senior who had to sit out half the season due to Colorado High School Activities Association rules.
"We haven't found our identity yet," the third-year coach said. "And we could look at that as a good thing, because it means we haven't played to the level of what we are capable of yet."
Neither has Pine Creek (7-7). The Eagles, led by Grant Morin's 12.5 points and more than three assists, are just starting to heat up, winning six of their past seven.
Liberty (6-5), meanwhile, can go as far as its smallest player, AJ Bohuslavsky can take it. Standing 5-9 (on the tips of his toes), the senior averages 19.4 points and has 20-plus points in five games this season.
Then there's Fountain-Fort Carson (4-9) and Palmer (4-9), who have each played some of the toughest schedules in the area. The Trojans have played games against Cherry Creek, Highlands Ranch, Mountain Vista and Regis in their nonconference schedule; while Palmer has faced Valor Christian, Air Academy and Overland in nonconference, and beat Pine Creek in the league's kickoff to the season.