By Kevin Wilson
FLOYD — As high schoolers will tend to do, some of Floyd High’s more talented basketball players have graduated over the past few years.
Much to the delight of Broncos coach Jeff Gillespie, though, a drop off in talent hasn’t been the result.
“I lost some great shooters last year,” Gillespie said of his first year with Floyd, “but as far as the level of talent there’s a lot of equality.”
The talent won’t be completely showcased Monday night when Floyd hosts Tatum in its season opener — senior Chance Chenault is not quite ready to return from ligament injuries suffered during the football season. However, Gillespie estimated that he’ll still have about 12 quality players until Chenault returns.
“When Chance comes back, somebody will lose a (varsity) spot,” Gillespie said. “Monday night may determine that.”
When Gillespie took over the Broncos last year, he inherited jump shooters (seniors David Capps, Robert Jimenz and Josh Carrillo) and post players like Bobby Reed. All of those players have since graduated, but the roster turnover won’t change the offensive philosophy of a team that shot more than 600 3-point attempts in last year’s 15-11 campaign.
“We’re still going to do the same thing,” Gillespie said. “We’re going to get the ball up the court, penetrate and try to kick it out.”
“We’ve got a bunch of spot shooters. There’s no one on our team I’ve told not to shoot the ball. Everybody’s got the green light as long as they know their range.”
Gillespie expects most of the scoring load to come from Chenault and Jerrod Long, but notes that he has several shooters like Manny Carrillo to fill out the boxscores in a packed pre-district schedule.
The Broncos have a small break between Monday and a Dec. 4 game against San Jon, but they will play nine games between now and the Christmas break, ending with the Route 66 Tournament in Tucumcari Dec. 18-20.
“We’ve got a lot of games before Christmas break, which is good,” Gillespie said. “It’s going to narrow those 13 (players) down to (a rotation of) nine or 10.”
The Broncos were eliminated by Cliff in last year’s Class 1A regionals. Gillespie thinks that it’s a three-team race in District 3-1A between the Broncos, Fort Sumner and Melrose — though he said it wouldn’t be a complete shock if Dora or Elida stepped up in the district tournament.
Like the boys team, the girls team has its share of injuries — the most notable to senior guard Corina Mendoza.
Lady Bronco coach Sean Wootton said that Mendoza, who forms a 3-point shooting tandem with senior Cindy Andrade, is at about 75 percent right now as she recovers from a torn meniscus.
Wootton, in his first season with the Lady Broncos, figured that Mendoza would play sparingly, but was adamant that there is no reason to push her in November when the point is to be playing in March.
Mendoza is one of a few injuries for Floyd going into Monday’s game against Tatum — Darcee Chenault is still bothered by back problems, and Brittney Burns hasn’t even practiced yet due to an ankle injury that did not heal properly during volleyball season.
Wootton coached against Floyd three times last year with Texico, so he knew coming in that Mendoza and Andrade would be the keys to Floyd’s success this year.
“I think our two seniors shoot the ball fairly decent,” Wootton said. “I think they have a lot of experience game-wise with the fact that they’ve played since their eighth-grade years.”
Andrade, who plays both the point guard and power forward positions, thinks there are several positive factors for her team — Wootton and assistant Jaytha Culpepper “have a lot of faith” in them, among other elements.
“We’ve got young girls stepping up already,” Andrade said. “Corina’s out for a little bit, but she’s coming back pretty fast.”
Those young players Andrade referred to just may dictate Floyd’s success. Beyond Mendoza and Andrade, the Lady Broncos are a team of sophomores, freshmen and eighth-graders. Wootton said that thin numbers — Floyd only has 11 players from grades 9-12 — will require him to use an eighth-grader in every game just to fill the roster.
“We’re actually (a junior varsity team) as far as experience and talent so far, playing a varsity schedule,” Wootton admitted. “Right now, we’re really inexperienced as far as basketball skills and knowledge go. Those little things can get better as you go and work full speed.”
Floyd is coming off a 9-13 season.
Wootton is the fifth coach in six years for the Lady Broncos.