By JIM McCUE | Senior Contributor
The boys’ basketball program shares a lot in common with its female counterparts. Both teams have grown into perennial league contenders and playoff threats; both have strong senior returners looking to lead an inexperienced roster; and both will play challenging schedules to prepare for the grueling Delta River League.
But, the boys still lack one thing that the girls have: a league championship.
“Our first goal is to get better every year,” said senior Cole Nordquist. “But we have never won a league title, and we want to make it happen this year.”
Taking the DRL will be a challenge as defending league champ Sheldon returns a large portion of the group that won Sac-Joaquin Section and CIF Northern Regional titles last year while also adding talented transfer Darin Johnson to its roster. Despite that obvious obstacle to Pleasant Grove’s goal of a league championship, Nordquist and the Eagles hope they can round into title contenders come February.
Key to a run at the DRL crown will be the senior trio of Nordquist, Malik Thames, and Matthew Hayes. They will be called upon to carry the statistical and leadership load for a team that advanced to the section Division I semifinals and the second round of the NorCal playoffs.
“Many of our returners only witnessed the league and playoff battles from the bench, and didn’t get the experience with respect to game minutes,” coach John DePonte said. “If we can get some guys to step up and be consistent to boost our Big Three, then I think we can compete with anyone.”
Nordquist is temporarily sidelined with an ankle sprain, so Thames and Hayes will take the Eagles out of the gate and into an early schedule that features Sacramento High’s St. Hope Elite Hoop Classic and a trip to Southern California for the Oaks Christian Holiday Classic to face elite programs in preparation for league battles with Sheldon, Jesuit, and Oak Ridge.
DePonte plans to get valuable court time for players that only witnessed the Eagles’ league and playoff battles last year, but the coach is comfortable knowing that Nordquist and Thames””two three-year starters in the backcourt””will be on the floor with the less experienced players to ensure that Pleasant Grove can compete with any team it faces.
“They’re mistake erasers,” DePonte said of the duo. “They help make up for any mistakes on the court and can make the adjustments on the court to get teammates in the right place.”
The road to the elusive league title for the boys’ program may be uphill and pose a few speed bumps for the Eagles, but DePonte is confident that this year’s group can evolve into a group that challenges consensus DRL favorite Sheldon this year.
“As a team, we have set our goals as high as we can,” DePonte said. “We plan on fighting for a league title. If we grow each day and each practice, then we believe that we can do that.”
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