The high school winter sports season returned Monday morning, and it came with a fresh blanket of snow lining the walkway to Jackson Hole High School.
Inside, the 2019-20 Broncs boys basketball team began their campaign with drills — quick feet, slides and full court sprints.
The team that will take the court this season would not be recognizable if it weren’t for the same black and orange uniforms the side wore last year. The Broncs lost eight players to graduation, and only a couple of players that will take the mantle this season had any minutes a year ago.
Two of those players are seniors Evan Brunner and Silas Wotkyns, though their time inside the lines was sparse. Wotkyns returns with the most varsity experience, having appeared in 17 games with an average 3.4 points per outing last year. Brunner saw the floor in seven games, averaging 1.3 points per game.
But that lack of experience doesn’t seem to be keeping the Broncs from a healthy amount of confidence a few weeks out from the opening tip.
“I think we’ll do fine; we have enough experience and talent,” Wotkyns said. “Last year there were a ton of seniors, so coach obviously wanted to play them, but now it’s our time.”
One of those seniors lost was center Nate Fairbanks, who averaged just north of 17 points and 14 rebounds a game. He was surrounded by jump shooting wings Gus Armijo and Matt Ellingson, who are now gone as well.
There’s no doubt they’ll be missed, especially the interior presence of Fairbanks.
“Nate was kind of a unique human being,” head coach Sam Lunz said. “He wasn’t that big, but he was extremely athletic, and talk about a guy that never stops working.”
It’s a mantra that Brunner and Wotkyns hope to retain while bringing their own leadership to the floor this season. They expect to remain largely a jump shooting team, but it begins with effort.
“I think for us we just need to have senior leadership,” Brunner said. “Take control of this team because someone needs to step up.”
Among the players expected to attempt to fill the hard-working low post shoes of Fairbanks is sophomore Colter Dawson. The recently named all-state linebacker in football didn’t see varsity minutes a year ago, but this year it will be on him and senior Gaines Mueller to provide the body down low.
“We’re fortunate enough to have a big coming in right after [Fairbanks] in Colter Dawson,” Wotkyns said. “All it is is hustle. Nate’s a very talented basketball player, but he hustled for every shot that went up, and Colter is the same way.”
Words like hustle, energy and effort seem to float from the mouth of Lunz down to his new contingent of leadership, who rely on the themes heavily.
And though the faces from a season ago are gone, Lunz expects a similar offense out of this crop. It will be the fourth season running the same sets for this year’s seniors.
“There’s a lot of things that will be similar, just to have continuity from year to year,” Lunz said. “In order for us to be successful against the teams we have to play, we have to do a lot of things right. … It’s not like we’re the most athletic team or the biggest team or the best shooting team in the state. We have to grind things out in order to have any kind of success.”
The Broncs showed signs of a breakthrough last year, but it never came in full. Jackson finished the regular season at 9-14, before dropping bitter rival Riverton at regionals to come within a game of a state tournament berth. Evanston ended the Jackson season there in a three-point game.
Whether Jackson gets a crack at redeeming that loss and advancing to state is the question for the group this season. For the players, it’s too early to talk end goals.
But they aren’t ruling anything out.
“We want it all, but it depends how our first few games go,” Brunner said. “Then we can tell from there. We’re completely new, no one really has that varsity experience, so we’ll see when we get there.”
“I think we’ll be fine,” Wotkyns said.
Jackson opens its season at the Kelly Walsh tournament Dec. 12-14.