EVANSTON — The Evanston High School boys’ basketball team won’t have the most experienced group entering the 2017-18 campaign.
But that doesn’t change the Red Devils’ expectations this season.
“At Evanston, our goal is always a state title,” second-year coach Lex Cornia said. “That’s why we play. There’s a ton of banners in this gym, there’s a ton of tradition in this gym and that’s the goal every year.”
Evanston graduated seven seniors from last year’s team that went 16-12 — 6-4 in the 4A West — and finished fifth at the state tournament after claiming a 64-60 win against Cheyenne East in the consolation championship.
Gone to graduation is Nathan Welling, Hunter Hicks, Seth Davis, Jesse Barker, Hayden Crofts, Brandon Wicks and Weston Cox. Barker earned All-State honors after averaging 10.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.7 steals per game.
The Red Devils return All-Conference selection Chase Critchfield, who led the team in scoring at 11.3 points per game. Seniors Chandler Anderson, Braxton Hiatt and Hunter Groll also saw some action at the varsity level at various points during the season last year.
“We don’t return a ton of experience, but we do return seasoned senior players,” Cornia said. “It’s a good group. They’ve always been a good group. They’ve worked hard and they’ve been tight-knit, which is huge.”
Juniors Lance Evans, Seth Lloyd, Brady Hurd and Garrett Berger, along with sophomores Mason Ellingford and Dawson Crofts are also expected to make an impact this year.
“We have a lot of weapons, a lot of guys that can be used in different situations,” Cornia said. “We don’t have to just play five or six men. We can go to our bench, we can go up and down, we have size, we have perimeter shooting. I think we can cause a lot of problems for teams.”
Groll, one of Evanston’s captains, agrees.
“We’re sharing the ball really well,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of athletes. We can do a lot of different things. I don’t think we’re going to have to rely on one or two players. Our whole team can play.”
Last season, Evanston finished third in the conference. As a No. 3 seed at regionals, the Red Devils claimed a 51-46 win over No. 6 Jackson in the first round, before falling, 58-56, to No. 2 Rock Springs. Evanston went on to claim a 55-40 win against No. 5 Natrona in the third-place game.
At state, Evanston opened with a 46-39 loss to Natrona, but the Red Devils rallied and claimed a 55-39 win against Cheyenne Central in an elimination game before holding off Cheyenne East in the consolation championship.
This season, Evanston hopes to secure a No. 1 or 2 seed at the regional tournament and be one of the top defensive teams in the state. Last season, the Red Devils had the second-best defense in Class 4A after holding opponents to 48.3 points per game.
“We have some pretty high expectations,” Groll said. “Our goal is to be the No. 1 defense in the state. We believe we can go really far if that’s the case.”
Added Cornia: “Evanston has always been known for its defense. This year our goal is to be the top-ranked defense in the state, hands down. Our guys buy in to defense. That’s kind of in their DNA when they put on the jersey.”