This season, the Mayer High boys' basketball team should look on the bright side: There's nowhere to go but up.
After plodding through a 2011-12 campaign that witnessed the small-school Division IV Wildcats compile a 1-26 overall record, 34th-year coach Roland Medina wisely turned the page this past spring.
"The bottom line is we've got to get a little more disciplined as a team and do what we're supposed to be doing," Medina said late last week. "But I really expect something out of this group. The kids I have out like to play basketball."
Mayer returns six lettermen, including four starters, in what very well could be another rebuilding year this winter.
In the Wildcats' season opener last Tuesday at home, they succumbed to Salt River, 63-14, in a game Medina thought was not indicative of the improvement his team showed in the off-season.
"After the game, I told them it was more like 1-on-5 instead of us playing as a team," Medina said. "We're a much better team than what we showed. We are shooting the ball better. It's just knowing when to shoot."
The Wildcats, who have no seniors on their roster, are counting on eight juniors, a sophomore and a freshman to build a new foundation based on quickness rather than height.
Six-foot junior forward Nick McElroy, an aggressive playmaker and one of the tallest players on the squad who registered 6.1 points and 4.4
rebounds per game last season, paces Mayer.
Shooting guard Bryce Atkerson (5-8), point guard Tate Caldwell (5-8), forward Brandon Burns (6-0), and forward Dillon Darges (6-0) round out the returning players. All of them are juniors. Sophomore guard Collin Worley is also back.
Others to keep an eye on this season include four newcomers in rugged junior forward Shawnee Day (5-10), junior forward Austin Couch (5-11), junior guard Chad Minnis (5-8) and freshman guard Chandler Gutierrez (5-8).
Medina said his team is "still not quite playing at the varsity level," but he remains hopeful it will turn the corner.
If the Wildcats plan to be more competitive in 2012-13, the coach believes his club must play much more aggressively on defense while being more consistent offensively in a new five-man motion set.
"We have to make good passes, set good screens, look for the open man, and be aggressive going to the basket," Medina said.
The coach has reinstalled a match-up zone defense he ran several years ago in hopes of resuscitating a unit that's struggled the past two seasons.
In 2012-13, Mayer plays only one team in its section in Ash Fork. Medina said that will make it more difficult for his club to advance to the sectional playoffs, which are part of the equation used to determine state playoff qualifiers. This season MHS is playing several games against higher-division teams.
The Wildcats headed to the Phoenix Country Day Tournament this past weekend. Results were not available by press time. The boys will be home again at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 6 vs. Bagdad.
"It would be nice just to make the .500 mark with our wins and losses," Medina said. "But it's going to be tough."