The Pioneers seniors are trying to take advantage of their final season

Jason Maki knows that last year’s loss to a beatable team in the play-in round was a fitting end to an season marked by underachievement.

“I thought we were a better team than Cleveland,” Sandy’s boys basketball coach said about a 55-45 loss to the Cleveland Warriors. “But we’re not trying to talk about last year. We didn’t think we had a very good year.”by: FILE PHOTO - Jacob Groom is a senior on Sandys basketball team who will help led the fast-break offense.

Fortunately for the Pioneers, though, the feeling of regret and opportunity squandered was eased by the knowledge that most of the team would return the following year.

The Pioneers’ mulligan begins against Hood River at 7:15 this Friday at Sandy High School, when the four-team Sandy Tournament tips off. But for Sandy to avoid a repeat of last year’s disappointment and meet its potential, Maki is determined to instill resiliency, a quality lacking in previous seasons, he said.

“When things are going well, we can beat anybody,” he said. “But when they’re not, we’ve had a hard time stopping the bleeding in the past. I’m hoping this team is different.”

The results from last year were largely determined by the Pioneers’ trouble overcoming adversity. So Maki has made that a topic of conversation when speaking to his team during the pre-season.

“I’m hoping this team is different because of the experience,” he said. “I’ve told them, ‘there’s nothing that’s going to happen this year that you haven’t seen.’ ”

Sandy’s roster is made up mostly of seniors, including Jacob Groom and Justin Adams who’ve started since their sophomore years.

“I’m hoping that our experience will be that calming effect when things don’t go well,” Maki said. “That’s the question for the year. What happens when someone comes out and kicks our butt in the first quarter? Are we going to roll over or are we going to fight back and play.”

Sandy’s coach believes that last year’s snowball effect was partially caused by a lack of established leadership. That’s why Maki has assigned all 10 seniors to be captains, a move he hopes will encourage more players to speak up, especially in tough times.

“If we name one captain or two captains, some players take a back seat,” Maki said. “They all have the opportunity to speak up when needed.”

Maki is hoping his seniors will respond to the challenge. He said the team is aware this is the final year for many players and the final opportunity to realize their potential.

“It’s been a really talented group for a long time and they haven’t had the success that they want,” Maki said. “We thought we could win some more basketball games last year. They know this is their last chance to make a legacy. We’re hoping it clicks. It didn’t click last year.”

An encouraging sign for this season is the competition in practice. Maki said players are battling for playing time, and he admits he’ll have difficult decisions to make. But in a fast-break offense, which Sandy will implement this year, he’ll be able to rotate enough players to keep the team fresh despite the tiring tempo.

“I’ve really enjoyed the beginning of our pre-season,” Maki said. “We’ve had really competitive practices, and that’s been lacking a little bit the last couple of years just because we’ve had some injuries and a lack of depth. Playing against quality people in practice is sometimes tough.”

Maki is hopeful his team responds well to difficult circumstances, but he admits he won’t know until the season begins. He remembers the large deficits, the cold shooting streaks and the lack of confidence. He knows that’s adversity his team needs to overcome.

“I think we can do those things but we have to prove it to ourselves and everyone else,” Maki said.

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