By Jeff Edgington
Special to West Valley Preps
After ending the season with a bitter taste in their mouths, the returning members of the Liberty boys basketball team and head coach Mark Wood took a week or two off and then went back to the drawing board.
Their 21-8 campaign with a 5A semifinal defeat (to the eventual winner Phoenix Sunnyslope) brought much joy to the newest Peoria Unified high school. It was the furthest this program has gone to date.
Wood has seen it all in his tenure. This upcoming winter he will be showcasing his 10th varsity team there. The school has not seen another coach. The next obstacle in his path is the coveted shiny trophy at the end of February. But Wood wants it to be known that titles are not the be-all-end-all.
“We were right there last year. We made our deepest run in school history. It was amazing the support from the school. It’s in the past. I have a good core group back and they’ve bought in to this program,” he said.
Maintaining consistency and establishing a winning culture is the next step. Five of the 10 seasons have been above .500. A few were less than desirable. But Wood has the young group believing in his mentality.
The Lions individually have played club ball, as well as in the Arizona Christian University team camp. Two elite summer tournaments also included the Lions.
In the middle of June they participated in the seventh annual Primetime tournament. Coach Wood’s squad took sixth out of 8 but was not to be discouraged as this event in Mesa featured some upper-tier programs.
The next week brought a showcase that’s in its 11th season. The Best in Basketball Summer Invitational was held at (oddly enough) Sunnyslope. The Lions dropped the opening contest to Scottsdale Chaparral 72-68 before rattling off the final three contests.
They defeated Queen Creek, Paradise Valley, and Deer Valley. The Skyhawks have been mentioned by some “experts” as a team in the mix for the 5A conference title — though Sunnyslope is the prohibitive favorite to repeat as they return every player from the title team.
It will take contributions from the entire roster to dethrone the champs. A task that senior Kade Heddings, who also plays safety on the football team, believes this team is capable of. He expects big things in 2017-18.
“We lose a 20 points per game scorer in Cole (Roether) but this team has some balance and guys who can score. We trust in senior Quentin Guliford but it’s not just him. He is complemented by two juniors Jacob Edahl and Connor Ray, among others who are capable of making baskets for us,” Heddings said.
As for keeping up the intensity and demanding style that is implemented by Wood, it has become a way of life for the program.
They will still instill their core values: selflessness and toughness. Eventually going through the halls of Liberty High, basketball players will have these engraved in your brain.