WILLCOX — Willcox lost only one starter from its boys basketball varsity during a tough year last year, but the loss of the talented Tanner Debaun is a void that head coach Corey Downs feels his young group can overcome.

“We just have to make our kids believe they can break through and put in the hard work, and hopefully everything else pays off,” Downs said.

Willcox went just 4-13 last year to finish sixth in its seven-team league and number 31 in the state 2A power rankings. Just two more victories this year can help it make the top 24 to reach a postseason berth this time around.

“Our conference is one of the toughest in the state in 2A. Each year, we have three or four teams in the top 10,” the coach said. “Last year, we had a lot of players in places we wouldn’t normally be if we had experience. This year, we’ll have a little more experience.”

Although it is still a young team, Willcox will return four starters with experience, led by junior guard Cael Debaun and sophomore center Rico Lunt. Starters Lynden Smyer and JJ Lunt are also juniors, while junior JT Garza brings experience off the bench. Freshman Cory Peterson could also contribute right away, Downs said.

“I would think we can make progress over last year,” he said. “Defensively, we’re pretty long and may play a little more zone because we can cover more area.”

The Cowboys will get a nice preseason tune up at the small school Boyd Baker tournament next Monday, Nov. 25, meeting 1A opponents Patagonia and St. Augustine on the first day, followed by 1A foe Hayden on Tuesday.

They also get a chance at some early upsets in the regular season by hosting their first three opponents, although Bisbee, Morenci and Thatcher are those opponents. They went 6-0 against Willcox last year.

“A few of our young guys have been playing varsity now, and we have a few years of knowing what to expect, knowing what our conference is like,” Downs said. “They put in some work in the offseason. Hopefully, that helps to have a better season this year.”

Downs will be assisted by Tim Bowlby, Garret Douglas, Richard Rhinehart and newcomer Andrew Gallagher. They will host their annual Cowboy/Cowgirl Madness event Saturday with the Red/White game for an admission of one canned good.

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