Coach Craig Mai has taken over the reins from coach Bob Woods on the Mingus boys basketball team with a lot of enthusiasm and hope for the season. Mai has been the assistant varsity and the junior varsity coach for the Marauders for the past several years.
With a new coach and a fairly new team, this year's squad no doubt will be full of ups and downs.
The Marauders are no stranger to ups and downs. Last year the team started out on fire, winning 11 of their first 15 games, but an injury to one of their main players served as a derailment to the team, which couldn't quite recover. They concluded their season with a first round loss in the regional playoffs against the No. 5 team in the Grand Canyon region, Chinle, 52-43 and finished with a record a couple of games above .500.
Coach Mai is hoping for a bit more success this year, despite the change in arms. The majority of the team is from the winning junior varsity team last year, which went 14-5.
"These kids are really hard workers," said coach Mai. "Our strengths will be playing as a team and working hard."
The majority of the team has been playing with each other each year consistently, as they've funneled through the system at Mingus. They seem very upbeat and determined as they get closer and closer to beginning the season.
Injuries have taken a bit of a toll on the team already, before the team has even seen its first tip off.
Returning senior Dmitri Zagar hurt his ankle last Wednesday and is assumed to be out for a couple of weeks. Mike Cook, a junior was also out for a bit with an injury, but is anticipated to be back in action next week.
There are seven juniors joining the team this year. Harold Mitchell and Cook are the only two Juniors with any Varsity experience. Overall the team has bonded well and are comfortable playing along side each other and familiar with coach Mai's coaching style as well.
The Grand Canyon region's biggest foe will be Page. Page is normally regarded as one of, if not, the toughest teams in the league, but coach Mai is hopeful.
"I believe this year's regional teams are all pretty well rounded," said Mai. "I think anyone has a chance to be region champions this season."
Even though practice began on Oct. 31, the basketball team had participated in extra training during the summer with tournaments and camps. Mai said between the freshman, junior varsity and varsity teams, the boys have seen close to 100 games over the summer.
Coach Mai admits that his coaching style is a little different from that of coach Woods, but that the subtleties won't make much difference, seeing that he is basically coaching the same team he had last year, just at a higher level.
Mitchell and Todd Ritter are both strong players that Mai is keeping an eye on. Both are looking tough and stepping up so far in practice.
"We are looking at a well balanced schedule this year," said coach Mai. "We get a chance to see small schools and powerful teams, as well as great tournaments like the Pepsi Tournament in Flagstaff."
The overall tone of the upcoming season seems to be one of optimism and hope, not only for the players, but the coaches as well.
"We have been focused on defense and rebounding, that is what we are working on the most," said Mai.
The three returning players from last year's squad, Cook, Zagar and Mitchell, will need to serve as team leaders on the court and in practice to not only help their teammates, but the coaching staff as well.
Mai has had plenty of experience coaching at the Varsity level, and with the added bonus of already being familiar with the team, no doubt these Marauders will do well coming into the new season of games.
The team's first contest will be an annual scrimmage against North Canyon on Thursday at home. Game time is 5 p.m.