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Yuma High matches win total of past three years
The Yuma High boys basketball team came into the season with the goal of winning five games before Christmas break.
It was a lofty idea considering the Criminals' record the previous three seasons in which they won a combined six games.
But on Wednesday night, the Criminals took down Brawley 60-47 on the road, which meant they won't be going into 2013 with five wins.
Instead, they'll have six.
“We're smarter, a little more athletic and we want it more this year than compared to the past years,” said senior guard Sedric Rash, who is averaging eight points a game for the Criminals. “We're really determined to get a win and we really prepare ourselves for the game.”
Rash is just one of the pieces responsible for the sudden turnaround at Yuma High. There's Alex Juarez, the 5-foot-2 senior point guard who has been the floor general for the Criminals. There's senior wing Quentin Barley, who averages nearly double-figures, and junior guard Brian Dixon, who is the team's leading scorer at 18.5 points a game.
Then there's the freshman — 5-foot-10 forward/post Octavio Rios. After being put into the starting lineup nine games into the season, he's averaged more than 10 points a game, with his finest performance coming when he scored 20 points and grabbed nine rebounds in a loss to Kofa.
“In general he's just a stud. He's a great football player and in basketball he's even better. To be a freshman at any level and put up the numbers he's putting up has been very impressive,” Criminals coach Chris Turner said. “I knew he had it in him just to emerge. Now that he sees he can compete at this level, the sky's the limit.”
The transformation started last season, when Turner took control of the Criminals.
In the 2009-10 season, the Criminals went 2-20 and had an average margin of defeat of 26.5 points, including an 81-19 loss at Rincon. A year later, Yuma High didn't fare any better — it went 1-17 with an average margin of defeat again of 26.5 points, including a 77-19 loss at the hands of Cibola.
But last year, the Criminals went 3-19 — all three wins were against San Luis, which finished 1-23 — and had a margin of defeat of only 15 points and their worst loss came in a 61-30 defeat at Lake Havasu, which made the Division I state playoffs.
“Last year we were competing again. It wasn't the ‘we're playing Yuma, this is an easy one,'” Turner said. “Now it's ‘we have to plan for Yuma.'”
But the 2012-13 season has felt different from the start for the Criminals. Turner said he incorporated the idea of setting team goals, one of which was to get five wins by the end of the break.
“This year he came out and said this is what I expect from you,” Rash said. “And we said all right, we'll sell out for the team so we can achieve our goals.”
They opened up with a five-point loss to Gila Ridge that Turner said the Criminals should have won. In the following game, they stuck around before losing by eight at Cibola, which is arguably the best team in the county. Despite starting the season with two losses, Turner said he knew his team had become a worthy opponent.
“It was a great belonging feeling because you could hear them talking in the locker room. I'd listen in, of them saying we got this,” Turner said.
“It's a sense of pride, for ourselves, for our school. We want to show we can hang with the big schools — with Cibola, with Gila Ridge,” Rash said. “And we can. We've shown in the past games.”
The first win of the year came in a 50-23 beating at Kofa on Nov. 23 before traveling to the Chinle tournament, where they picked up two more wins and stayed within 14 points of Shadow Mountain, which is 16-1 on the year and No. 1 at Division II according to the Arizona Republic. Two more wins came at the Southwest Rotary Classic before the Criminals got their sixth in their 13-point victory over Brawley.
“Now we can play for the bragging rights and it's not just a joke to play Yuma High,” Turner said. “To bring that back to the school and you can feel that excitement and you can see it in the community in the crowd. We're starting to get a nicer crowd.”
There is a different feeling for the players, too. The days of hiding that they play for the Criminal basketball team around school are over — replaced instead with the satisfaction of knowing they're starting to get some wins for Yuma High.
“You wouldn't really walk around like, ‘Yeah, I'm on the varsity basketball team,' because it wasn't that big of a deal,” Rash said. “Now that we've done better than last year, everybody is like ‘Hey, you guys won last night.' It feels a lot better than last year.”
Jesse Severson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 539-6881. Find him on Facebook at facebook.com/YSJesseSeverson.