Submitted by Denair High School:
Even as the Denair boys basketball team checks off its goals one by one, Coach R.J. Henderson and his players know the biggest objectives still are on the horizon – a high playoff seeding and a chance to compete for a Sac-Joaquin Section title.
First things first, though.
Last Friday, the Coyotes got to celebrate something that they haven’t accomplished since 2004 – earn a Southern League championship. Denair’s 74-38 romp over Delhi left the Coyotes at 10-0 in league play with only Wednesday’s home game with Le Grand and Friday’s contest at Waterford left. A victory in either would assure Denair of an outright championship since second-place Orestimba (9-2) already has lost twice to the Coyotes.
Earlier last week, Denair achieved another milestone – it won at Mariposa for the first time in nine years.
“It’s been a fun few months,” said Coach R.J. Henderson, who was doused by water by his players after Friday’s clinching game. “Getting drenched was unexpected, but fun.”
Moments later, the team assembled for a photo under the scoreboard that had been reset to say 20-20 to mark this year. The last time Denair won a league title was 2004, when it finished in a three-way tie with Central Catholic and Le Grand. Two years before that, there was another shared league championship with Central.
Denair has flashed its potential the past two winters. The Coyotes have made the Division V playoffs both seasons under Henderson, now in his eighth year as head coach. They even won a first-round game last year, but then were eliminated. Their collective sights are set much higher this time around.
“Our primary goal for the year was to win the league title outright,” Henderson said. “Our secondary goal was to play in March. We’re going to have to win a home playoff game and another game to do that.”
The Division V brackets will be announced Saturday, with the playoffs beginning next Tuesday and Wednesday at the higher seeded teams’ home courts.
Denair (23-2) has far and away the best record of any Division V school, but strength of schedule and the overall weakness of the Southern League are likely to drop the Coyotes to a No. 3 or even No. 4 seed.
Brookside Christian (19-8) and Bradshaw Christian (16-11) play in tougher leagues, so are strong bets to be seeded higher. And if Ripon Christian (19-6) wins the Trans-Valley League, the Crusaders also could figure into the mix, even though Denair beat them 68-58 before Christmas.
However the playoff bracket goes, Denair is going to be a challenge for any opponent. The Coyotes rarely have a 20-point scorer, instead relaying on a balanced offense that features threats at every position. On any given night, any of the starters or bench players could be the top scorer.
Last week against Mariposa, Hayden Feldman scored 13 points and Jordan Smith-Sires added 10, while Austin Upfold grabbed 11 rebounds and Jacob Kuharski had 10. Jack Henderson made all three 3-pointers.
Two nights later against Delhi, it was Mario Plasencia with 16 points, five rebounds and four assists to lead the way.
“We’re such a deep team. When we’re playing our tempo, we’re a difficult team to guard,” Henderson said. “You can’t really key on one guy. One night, it’s our seniors and another it’s our sophomores. … Other coaches I’ve talked to like our willingness to share the basketball. When we’re clicking, the basketball is not sticking.” Henderson credits the commitment his players have made to basketball for much of the success. Ten out of the 11 players play for at least 10 months out of the year, including participating in the summer and fall travel league schedules.