The question for the 2016-17 Cougars is not if they will be good, but rather, how good will they be?
Spanish Springs went 12-4 in regional play last year and returns four starters. It’s the largest reason the 4A North coaches tabbed them the preseason favorites in the Spark Tribune Coaches Poll.
Tenth-year coach Kyle Penney isn’t moved by the preseason love.
“You can talk all day long about, ‘oh, we have some good players,’ which isn’t a lie, but if we’re not going to buy in and commit to the process and the daily grind, it doesn’t matter what we have,” he said.
Leading the pack of returning players is last year’s High Desert League Player of the Year, Marcus Loadholt, who averaged 18.2 points per game. Josh Prizina was also a first-team selection last year, scoring 11.1 points and grabbing 7.6 rebounds a night.
It goes without saying those two seniors will have a large hand in determining if Spanish Springs can win its second league title and/or its first regional title. Loadholt is entering his fourth season with the varsity program, Prizina his third.
“You got guys like Marcus and Josh, who could fill a big leadership role,” Penney said. “They should understand what it takes. Hopefully they’re driven and hungry enough to set that standard. They do a lot of it where it becomes a player-driven team as opposed to coach(-driven) right now.”
Also returning for the Cougars is senior guard Bryce DeLong, a second-team selection last winter, and fellow second teamer, junior small forward Jalen Townsell who is generating interest from NCAA Div. I programs.
Despite the successful regular season in 2015-16, the Cougars were upset by Sierra League No. 3 seed, Galena, at home, in the first round of the regional tournament. It was thy symptom of a season-long issue.
“We’re like anyone else, we still have certain issues and we have to work on fixing those and becoming consistent, I think that’s what hurt us a lot last year,” Penney said. “We just didn’t find a consistent level of play.”
While the team lacked consistency last year, Penney’s schedule-making hasn’t. He once again loaded the Cougars’ non-league slate with tough out-of-state competition.
He typically opts not to play in the Wild West Shootout at Bishop Manogue, but will this year (Dec. 1-3), opening with St. Mary’s (Stockton, Calif.).
Spanish Springs will also host Grants Pass (Grants Pass, Ore.) and Oakland (Oakland, Calif) on back-to-back nights in December before going on the annual trip to San Diego for the Under Armor Holiday Classic Dec. 27-30.
“I want to get out and play teams that will make us better and expose us,” Penney said.
The Cougars may get debunked in a few non-league games, but make no mistake, they have the talent to reverse the roles in regional play.
4A North Schedule
Nov. 29 vs Wooster
Dec. 6 at Carson
Dec. 15 vs Douglas
Dec. 16 vs Galena
Jan. 3 at Damonte Ranch
Jan. 6 at Bishop Manogue
Jan. 10 vs McQueen
Jan. 13 vs North Valleys
Jan. 17 at Hug
Jan. 20 vs Reno
Jan. 24 vs Reed
Jan. 27 at McQueen
Jan. 31 at North Valleys
Feb. 3 vs Hug
Feb. 7 at Reno
Feb. 10. at Reed