The Aptos High boys’ basketball team turned on the afterburners before the start of Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League play last season and soared to a share of the league championship.
The Mariners shared the SCCAL title with Santa Cruz High by beating the Cardinals in the league tournament that takes place at the end of the season.
Aptos coach Brian Boywer said this year’s group isn’t as experienced as years past but they’re more than determined to get back on another title run.
“This year might even be tighter than other years,” Boywer said. “I just think it’s going to be up in the air this year, it really is.”
The Cardinals won the regular season title by finishing with a 9-1 record in league play, while the Mariners (8-2) finished runner-up, losing both matchups against them.
It was the first time since the 2014-15 season that Aptos won a share of the league championship. The last time it won the title outright was in 2011-12.
Aptos senior Trey Lee said the team is getting better defensively. He also mentioned the offense has been flowing much better at this part of the year compared to last year.
“We put in a new offense last year and that was rough but we’re starting to get way more into the complexity of the offense this early in the season, which is a good sign,” Lee said.
The 6-foot-1 forward said they have a deeper bench this season, which is important especially after they were running a seven-man rotation when Max Pepperdine went down with an injury last season.
“It’s huge,” Lee said. “Getting breaks when we need it is huge.”
Aptos junior point guard Jojoe Moreno said this year’s biggest change is they’ll be without the services of Pepperdine and Hunter Matys, who were named to the SCCAL all-league first team.
“It’s like a new team because not a lot of our starters had a lot of playing time,” Moreno said. “It’s different but we’ve been working hard all summer and we’re starting to build a connection.”
According to MaxPreps, Pepperdine averaged 14 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game, while Matys averaged 8.4 points, 4.5 rebounds and two assists per game last season for the Mariners.
Aptos will also be without Logan Feldbrugge, an all-league second team selection who averaged 10.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game last season.
Moreno said it’s been somewhat difficult to get adjusted without their all-leaguers.
“Being the only returning starter I feel like I have more of a role to take charge,” Moreno said.
Moreno said he’s seen some of the other seniors such as Brian Bowyer and Grant Kolassa get more involved.
One of his roles is bringing more intensity to practice and hyping up the team to keep it prepared. Moreno said the coaches gave him that responsibility coming into the season.
“A lot coaches have been telling me since last year that it’s my team and I have to be a leader,” Moreno said. “I’m just trying to make it the best year possible for everybody.”
Lee said they’ll have to step up defensively if they want another shot of at least a share of the league title.
“When we’re on defensively, we’re a very good team,” Lee said. “That defense leads to offense.”
The Mariners will compete in the 72nd Annual Carmel Invitational this weekend before league play officially begins in January.
They’ll follow up by hosting the Aptos High and Santa Cruz Warriors NorCal Invitational at the Kaiser Permanente Arena beginning on Dec. 26.
Lee said they’re hoping to do much better than last year’s showing and come out with more intensity.
The Mariners will square off against very familiar foes in Santa Cruz (3-2), Harbor High (3-3), San Lorenzo Valley High (1-0), Scotts Valley High (3-3) and Soquel High (2-2).
The Cardinals will be without SCCAL co-MVPs Robert Bishop and Zavier Kemp-Hill. Bishop left due to graduation, while Kemp-Hill was not featured on this year’s roster.
Boywer said there isn’t a team on paper that looks like they could run away with this year’s league title.
Lee said each team will be a challenge and the task ahead of them is not an easy one.
“We want to win every game that we play in,” Lee said. “But I don’t want to start calling shots.”
Moreno said it’s going to take a lot of hard work to get back to the top of the mountain once again.
“We’re the underdogs this year,” Moreno said. “Everybody’s talking a lot about us but we’re not taking that in a bad way… we’re going to use that as motivation.”
Aptos will begin league play with an SCCAL opener against Soquel on Jan. 7 at 7 p.m.
Editor’s Note: This article will be published in the Dec. 13 edition of The Pajaronian.