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Going into the 2012-2013 boys basketball season, it’s no big secret that the Los Alamos Hilltoppers will be on a very steep learning curve.
“It’s going to be a rough year,” Los Alamos head coach Fil Dominguez said. “But if our kids buy into each other like we did last year, we’ll be alright.”
This is a new-look Hilltoppers team heading into this season. Los Alamos will open its season Tuesday night at Kirtland Central.
The Hilltoppers are going to have to find a way to get through the early part of their schedule, not to mention a District 2-4A schedule that could again be a tough one, and do so without any of their top six players returning from the 2011-12 squad.
Los Alamos went 11-19 last year.
It was the 16th and final team selected for the state 4A playoffs and bowed out in the first round against top-ranked Goddard, 54-48.
The six players he lost, all seniors, comprised virtually all of the team’s scoring from a year ago, not the least of which was offensive and defensive leader Nick Baker.
This season, Los Alamos head coach Fil Dominguez said he’s going to take things one game at a time. Los Alamos has been doing a lot of fundamental work in the preseason along with just getting the group acclimated to playing together.
The only returners from last year that saw a lot of meaningful playing time were Derrick Salazar and Xavier Dennison that came in a reserve role in the latter half of the season. Salazar, coming into his senior appeared in 15 games last season, while Dennison made 21 appearances.
However, Los Alamos will once again have the services of senior Travis Richins. Richins, who at 6-5 is the tallest member of the Hilltoppers’ roster, elected to skip out on his junior year, but chose to return for this season.
Dominguez said Richins has in the preseason emerged as one of the vocal floor leaders the inexperienced team will need, with one of his mantras being to leave everything on the floor every night, one that he’s learned from personal experience.
Richins was a regular starter in his sophomore year under then-coach Matt King.
Dominguez is entering his second season heading the Hilltopper program, taking over for King, who left abruptly in the summer of 2011 to take over one of the elite programs in the state, the Clovis Wildcats.
Dennison and other roster players like Ben Stewart, Sidney Ellis and William Steinkamp, just got back to practice from fall sports early last week.
Currently, Los Alamos is keeping just nine players on its regular roster, but Dominguez said he’ll probably bring two or three up from the junior varsity squad on a nightly basis.
Those JV players, however, won’t know if they’re going to float up until just minutes before tip-off of the varsity game.
Dominguez said that, despite a shortage of playing time for most of his top nine players, there have been some good battles in practice, something that wasn’t there in 2011-12.
“Last year, practices weren’t very competitive,” he said. “The top six were above everyone else. This year, we have nine guys in our rotation and we have no set starters right now.”
Los Alamos’ starters won’t get the benefit of easing their way into the season, however. While Kirtland Central is an unknown quantity, Los Alamos faces a very good Sandia Prep team Nov. 30, then followed by its first home game, an important Class 4A contest against Piedra Vista, which has almost everyone back from last season.
Also on the schedule this year are dates with Artesia at the Poe Corn Invitational, Albuquerque Academy, St. Pius X and Sandia High School right before the start of District 2-4A play.
Los Alamos’ district foe, Capital, is one of the preseason favorites in 4A, along with Los Lunas, St. Pius and, the odds-on favorite heading in, Roswell.
While Los Alamos will certainly have its growing pains, particularly early on, Dominguez said he’s been very happy with the effort he’s seen out of the Hilltoppers during preseason workouts.
“I will tell you one thing, it’s going to be a struggle, but they’ll be competitive,” he said. “If we lose games, it won’t be for lack of trying…I think we can surprise some people.”
Fil Dominguez (2nd year)
Derek Salazar, 5-4
Ben Stewart, 6-1
Travis Richins, 6-4
Sidney Ellis, 6-0
William Steinkap, 6-3
Xavier Dannison, 6-0
Skyler Veenis, 6-1
Simon Heath, 6-2
Franklin Archuleta, 5-10
(*: District 2-4A game)
Nov. 20: at Kirtland Central, 7 p.m.
Nov. 30: at Sandia Prep, 7 p.m.
Dec. 1: vs. Piedra Vista, 5 p.m.
Dec. 4: at Moriarty, 7 p.m.
Dec. 6: at St. Michael’s, 7 p.m.
Dec. 11: at Belen, 7 p.m.
Dec. 13-15: at Joe Armijo Invite, TBA.
Dec. 27-29: at Poe Corn Tourney, TBA.
Jan. 3: vs. Academy, 7 p.m.
Jan. 4: vs. Taos, 7 p.m.
Jan. 8: vs. Pojaque, 7 p.m.
Jan. 11: at Los Lunas, 7 p.m.
Jan. 15: vs. St. Pius X, 7 p.m.
Jan. 18: at Sandia, 7 p.m.
Jan. 23: vs. Bernalillo, 7 p.m.*
Jan. 26: at Santa Fe, 7 p.m.*
Jan. 29: vs. Española Valley, 7 p.m.*
Feb. 1: at Capital, 7 p.m.*
Feb. 9: at Bernalillo, 7 p.m.*
Feb. 12: vs. Santa Fe, 7 p.m.*
Feb. 15: at Española Valley, 7 p.m.*
Feb. 20: vs. Capital, 7 p.m.*