Dobson's girls basketball team was identified as one of the teams to watch in Division I in the preseason. Coach Tyler Dumas' squad has done nothing to diminish that notion.
Dobson's boys basketball team wasn't the first folks thought of for contender status. The Mustangs and the dean of East Valley boys basketball coaches in terms of time spent at the same school (30 years), Rick McConnell, were somewhat down most soothsayers list in the prowess department. Perhaps at the latter end of a top-10 conversation.
With the regular season concluded on Saturday (Feb. 8), both Dobson teams are standing tall. Each won their section title (D-I, Section 3). Dobson's girls were a perfect 9-0 in section contests. Add its freedom games and the Lady Mustangs played the toughest schedule of any team in the Divsion I in fashioning a 25-2 record. They finished the regular season No. 1 in the power rankings.
Dobson's boys produced an 8-1 section mark that included victories over Pinnacle, Mesa Mountain View, Mesa High, Chaparral and Desert Mountain. Most, if not all of those conquered section foes, were more highly thought of at the dawn of the 2013-2014 campaign. Dobson is 19-7 and officially wrapped up its section title on Friday (Feb. 7) by beating Brophy Prep, 85-74, using Kairee Williams 21 points and five 3-pointers to pace the victory. They finished the regular season No. 6 in the power rankings.
Dumas and McConnell enjoy sharing the limelight their players and fans have brought. There is mutual support from the teams when the other one plays and the coaches have similar philosophies of how their teams perform on and off the court. In fact, Dumas started out under the tutelage of McConnell nearly 20 years ago.
“I worked under Rick as a varsity assistant from 1995-1998,” Dumas said. “Then worked his summer camps while I coached at the junior high for 6 years before heading up to Dobson to coach the girls. So I say I am a twig on the McConnell coaching tree.”
Dumas possess his deepest team in his nine-year tenure as head coach. Three starters returned in Tori Lloyd, Miyah Leith and Dyesha Stahley — Lloyd and Leith finishing up outstanding four-year careers. The Lady Mustangs often employ 10 players and use that depth to advantage.
“The girls have met what I expected from them at the start of the year,” Dumas said. “Our schedule was challenging, especially into early January. This is a fun group to work with and they like to have fun. They had a team sleep over the other night and I got TP'd. Got me good. They like to have fun away from the game, and have earned where they're at.”
McConnell returned two of his top three scorers in Ryan Richardson and Kodi Justice so some firepower was in house. Several other returning varsity members were role players a year ago. They've moved into starting and key reserve roles that helped the team blossom into a unexpected section champ.
McConnell's team started the year slightly above .500. Narrow losses to Hamilton and Highland in early December signaled the Mustangs could hang. A rout of Salpointe in the Visitmesa.com Challenge and strong showing in a loss to Corona del Sol in the same tournament, kept players confidence on the upswing.
“Even with the losses to Highland and Hamilton early we were playing well,” McConnell said. “A couple of them bounced between JV and varsity. They've all been steady. We've had six different guys lead us in scoring in a game. It's an unselfish team.”
The greatest challenge in facing Dobson's boys this season is defending its perimeter shooting. Dobson has five players who have made 25 or more three-point field goals. All five (Richardson, Justice, Williams, Pablo Barriero and Mario Noriega) are shooting between 38 and 49 percent from three-point range. As a team Dobson is shooting 45 percent from behind the arc. Dobson averages better than 10 3s a game and has often scorched the nets for 14 or 15 3s in a contest.
Mike Mellinger and Hunter Thorpe have been challenged many nights by taller inside foes. They've managed to hold their own defensively, often against players with taller and by four inches and bulkier frames. Thorpe did so by making an abrupt transition from playing outside to inside this year.
“It was neat seeing the guys wrap up their section the other night,” Dumas said. “There's a lot of excitement around school about our teams.”
More work to be done for sure. But given their schedules and success to this point, nothing to cause either to take pause.