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GHS looks to strength in numbers

Bonding first step toward Cowboys’ success

Brandon Warr

Times Staff Writer


GHS Boys Basketball — Simply making the playoffs may be considered a strong season for other Western Slope league teams. But not the Gunnison High School (GHS) boys basketball team.  

The Cowboys enter the 2017-18 season looking to be more competitive on the court — and accomplish more than just a post-season berth. Last season, GHS finished 7-14 and won their way into the 3A district tournament by beating Olathe 52-45. However, GHS would lose 67-26 in the first round to Basalt.

Head coach Matt Smith is coming into this season with high expectations for his team. In fact, they start with a strong emphasis on the concept of “team.”

“I expect us to take a really big step forward as a program and to be more competitive on the basketball court,” said Smith. “Players are going to have to earn every single win and be ready to work really hard to earn a position on the floor.”

Smith will have help in accomplishing those goals this season. Former GHS head coach Jake Stone and former Western State Colorado University assistant men’s basketball coach Tanner Stillwell join the program for 2017-18.

“Coach Chris Low has been with me for three years now and it feels like we are in a program where we have grown a ton,” said Smith. “We are coming into this season with more knowledge and experience because we added Stone and Stillwell, which will really help us this season.”

An emphasis on ‘team’

With expectations as high as they are, Smith decided to take the first official night of the regular season to focus on team-bonding. That means players buying into the program and becoming strong teammates.

“We sat down on Friday night and talked about what's important,” said Smith. “Is it more important that we get the basketball in our hands or that we all legitimately get on the same page and figure out how to communicate with one another?”

Strong communication is needed, according to Smith, in that he doesn’t expect one or two players to carry the scoring load. The third-year head coach envisions a team for which any player can lead in scoring on a given night — based in large part on a new offense.

“They are going to see that we are not successful if we are one-dimensional or two-dimensional team,” Smith explained. “We have to be willing to be a five-dimensional team at all times on offense.”

While learning to play together will be important to GHS success this season, they will also have to focus on the mental aspect of playing on the road. The Cowboys struggled all last season, going 2-11 away from home.

“It definitely wasn’t where we wanted to be,” said senior Adam Engleman. “We are going to have to improve on our shot selection and making our free throws if we expect those numbers to go up.”

Smith’s goal of making “every gym our gym” will be an important concept for GHS to grasp. And the Cowboys will be put to the test to start the season, driving five hours on Thursday, Nov. 30 to compete in a three-day tournament in Eaton.

Learning to play together

The Cowboys believe their strength this season will be in numbers.

“Our strength is going to be our ability to frustrate teams by playing really intense defense and pushing the ball on offense,” said Smith. “We have to have a ‘next guy up’ mentality, where if one guy needs a break we have another guy on the bench who can play just as hard.”

Lane Bacialli, Engleman, Tanner Klug and Matt Sparks will be playing their final season as Cowboys and hope to contribute to this team's success.

Bacialli returns to the program after choosing not to play last season. With the senior’s return to the court for 2017-18, the GHS coaching staff is excited with what Bacialli provides for all aspects of the game.

Engleman, Sparks and Klug have been a part of the team for Smith’s entire tenure as coach and are looking to fill varsity spots this season.


(Brandon Warr can be reached at 970.641.1414 or


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