By Dave Wagner
DORA — The Dora boys basketball team endured a first under Ty Thatcher last season — a losing record.
As they prepare for tonight’s season opener at House, the Coyotes are also dealing with more serious challenges — automobile accidents, one claiming the life of then-junior Clayton Stokes in February and another, occurring in late October, which will keep current senior guard Travis Belcher off the court for at least the time being.
That said, Thatcher is optimistic about his team’s prospects. The Coyotes were 8-14 last season, including 4-6 in District 3-1A.
“We’ve got a lot of good players coming back,” the seventh-year coach said. “Last year was somewhat of a rebuilding year, but I thought we played a lot better basketball toward the end and we worked hard over the summer.
“We’re going to be a lot better basketball team. I can already see a lot of difference.”
Thatcher was encouraged by a scrimmage last Friday against an alumni team which included a number of members of the Coyotes’ Class 1A 2002 state champions.
The current Dora squad won the game.
“We just played as a team and came out on top,” 5-foot-7 senior guard Efrain Lopez said. “We didn’t expect to beat them, but we actually did pretty good. We shot the ball well from the outside, and our free throws were going in.”
Lopez is one of four returning starters. The others are 6-2 junior forward Tyler Wilhoit, 5-10 junior forward J.R. Gonzales and 5-11 junior forward Brent Hays.
Gonzales averaged a team-leading 16 points a year ago. Thatcher said Hays has been slowed by knee and rib injuries during the fall.
The Coyotes also expect help from 5-8 senior point guard Payton Terry — “he’s improved as much as anybody,” Thatcher said — and 5-9 freshman point guard Casey O’Connor, who saw brief varsity time last year.
A sophomore, 6-3 forward Ryan Craig, would have been in the mix but suffered a knee injury and likely won’t return until late in the season, Thatcher said.
“It’s hard to say exactly how good we can be at this point,” he said. “We played really well (against the alumni). There’s been a lot of growth on these kids over the past year.”
With Dora not fielding a football team, Lopez said the Coyotes are ready to compete.
“We’re anxious to get the season started,” he said. “We have more experience this year, and that’s going to help a lot.
“Most of our guards can shoot well, and we’ve got a couple of stout posts. We just have to play together as a team.”
Thatcher said the Coyotes will have to be better — their schedule includes rugged December tournaments at Clayton and Tularosa and tough area non-district games against Texico and Farwell.
He said the adversity has made the team stronger.
“The discipline this group has is really good,” he said. “I guess they’ve been forced to grow up.”
The Coyotes hope to be a part of what they expect to be a competitive district race.
“I honestly believe the district is up for grabs,” Thatcher said. “I think it’s as tough as any district in the state. Over the years, there’s usually been a team from our district that’s (in state contention) at the end.”
All Times MST
(boys and girls unless noted)
23 — at House, 5:30/7 p.m.; 29 — Tatum, 6/7:30 p.m.; 30 — Eunice, 6/7:30 p.m.
2-4 — at Clayton tournament, TBA; 7 — Texico, 6/7:30 p.m.; 9-11 — at Tularosa tournament (B), TBA; 17 — at Farwell, 5:30/7 p.m.
4-8 — EPAC tournament at Texico and Portales, TBA; 10 — at San Jon, 6/7:30 p.m.; 14 — at Logan, 6/7:30 p.m.; 18 — at Elida, 5:30/7 p.m.-x; 20 — Valley Christian (G), 6 p.m.; 21 — at Gateway Christian, 6:30/8 p.m.; 25 — Fort Sumner, 5:30/7 p.m.-x; 28 — at Melrose, 5:30/7 p.m.-x.
1 — at Floyd, 5:30/7 p.m.-x; 4 — Elida, 5:30/7 p.m.-x; 7 — at Tatum, 6/7:30 p.m.; 11 — at Fort Sumner, 5:30/7 p.m.-x; 15 — Melrose, 5:30/7 p.m.-x; 18 — Floyd, 5:30/7 p.m.-x.
All Times MDT. x-District 3-1A games.