Flying high again

By: Mike Ray, Gold Country News Services
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A new face is at the helm of the Colfax High boys basketball team this season. However, longtime followers shouldn’t expect this year’s club to stray too far away from the style of play that has made the Falcons one of the Sac-Joaquin Section’s most successful Division IV programs this decade. “The program has been on a solid foundation for years,” new coach Mike O’Connell said of the Falcons, who have won four league crowns since 2003 and averaged 24 wins a year since 2005. “We’re going to try and keep doing what we’ve been doing in the past. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel.” So far, so good. O’Connell has Colfax off to a 9-2 start with a slate including the likes of Nevada Union, Grant, El Camino, Palma of Salinas, Christian Brothers, Berkeley and Armijo of Fairfield. O’Connell, a former league MVP at Colfax who graduated in 1976, coached at the varsity level for 14 seasons at Lincoln. In 2007 he returned to coach and teach at his alma mater, and for the past two seasons he guided the Falcons’ freshman program. When longtime coach Ron Pucci retired last June after an illustrious career that produced 373 victories over 19 seasons, O’Connell was tagged to take the reins. Making the coaching transition easier for O’Connell is the fact that the Falcons return four of their top six scorers from last season’s squad, which went 17-11 and advanced to the second round of the playoffs. “We have some experience and that should be one of our strengths,” said O’Connell. “We also have some players up from the JVs that will also be in the mix.” Heading the list or returnees for the Falcons are seniors Justin Witt, Joey Jergo, Kyle Greer and Ryan Salmonson and junior Austin Oberg. Witt, a 6-foot-4 forward, averaged just a shade under 10 points and 5.3 rebounds a game last season and should be joined by both Jergo (8.7) and Greer (7.0) as go-to players in Colfax’s offense this season. Oberg, meanwhile, started most of last season as a sophomore running the point for the Falcons. Along with Jergo and Witt, the trio combined for 59 3-point field goals last season. Salmonson, a 6-10 center, has improved by leaps and bounds since last season and has helped solidify the middle for the Falcons. Last weekend he was the MVP of the Rosemont Roundup after going on a 29-point scoring spree in a win over Grant. “Ryan’s doing a good job,” said O’Connell. “He’s been a real plus for us thus far.” D.J. Guiles and Sean Mooney are two more seniors who will give the Falcons depth. Up from last season’s junior varsity squad, which went 20-5 and won the Pioneer Valley League championship, are 6-4 Ben Buell, Tom Baldoni, Robert O’Connell and guards Chase Mosier and Elliott Forsman. Mosier is averaging almost eight points a game since joining the team after the completion of the football season. O’Connell is expecting a dogfight for PVL honors this season. “Lincoln, Placer, Bear River and El Dorado have had just outstanding preseasons,” said O’Connell. “You can’t count out Mesa and Whitney either.” Colfax is idle until meeting Del Oro next Monday in the first round of the Kendall Arnett Tournament at Placer.