New year, new coach, fresh start
by David Tesitor
WALSENBURG — The John Mall Panther boys’ basketball team will enter the 2017-18 season under new leadership. Aaron Vallejos will be the new coach but is not a novice when it comes to coaching basketball. Vallejos has been on the sidelines as junior high coach and has coached many of the players as they were developing their basketball careers.
The Panthers have a relatively young team which will help them this season. Five freshmen have come up from the ranks of junior high which completed a very competitive 2016-17 season. They should all be valuable assets to the team, as many could compete for varsity status. There is one sophomore, 11 juniors and three seniors on the team.
The team has been working hard since practice officially began November 10. While a list of candidates for the starting team has been narrowed down, Coach Vallejos has not yet set the team.
“I haven’t name starters; but I will say all the participants out have been competitive in practice, which is good because that’s how as a team we’ll get better,” says Vallejos.
Vallejos says he is looking forward to continuing his relationship with many of the participants. “As a coach, I couldn’t think of a better group of boys to make the transition from junior high to high school with. My overall expectations for the season are that we improve after every practice and from game to game, and for us to become the best possible team that we can be.”
In addition to practicing, the team has worked on setting goals, individually and collectively, to give the season direction. The process has reinforced the concept that basketball is a team sport; that whatever is accomplish this season is accomplish together.
“I know the next four months will have its ups and downs, and the only way we’ll take a step to accomplishing our goals is by sticking together as a team”, says Vallejos.
Of concern to the team are events of the past football season which resulted in the forfeiture of the season. Vallejos will not allow these problems to continue into the basket season. His plan is to be proactive by utilizing parents and administrators at all times, not just when the team is experiencing a setback.
“If I can be proactive with parents–continue with relationships that I’ve already established and get the boys to play hard, with intelligence and together, things will take care of themselves and everyone will be able to live with the results,” he says.
It will be a struggle this season as the Panthers are rebuilding from last season when they went 11-11 overall and 6-8 in league play. They snuck into the regional tournament after defeating the Hoehne Farmers at district to qualify. At the regional tournament, Byers thrashed the Panthers 94-47 and stopped their dreams of a state berth.
In the new year, John Mall lost five seniors from the team, so this season’s crop of three seniors and 11 juniors will become the team leaders. The biggest advantage for the Panthers this season will be the diverse abilities of team members. No returning members from the 2016-17 season dominated play, making this season’s team hard to predict. Prior to last season, the Panthers last made the regional tournament in 2011 where they lost to Yuma 44-43.
Members of the John Mall Junior Varsity and Varsity team include Tyler Aguirre, Santiago Bobian, Byron Brown, Dylan DiMatteo, Nate Espinoza, Kyle Gomez, Daniel Martinez, David ‘DJ’ Montoya, Alejandro Morales, Erminio Neil, Malachi Neil, Adam Pacheco, Lupe Perez, Milton Perez, Ty Quintana, Armando Ruiz, Phillip Valdez, Nikko Vallejos, DeAndre Williams and Eli Yelloweagle. The student managers are Pantera Brothers and Makayla Lucero.