Two years ago was the best feeling that Wes Ryan and the De Beque Dragons could have ever hoped for. They were standing on the floor of Massari Arena, hoisting the Class 1A boys basketball state championship.
It was a moment that the team will never forget, and one that it badly wants to experience again.
As the 2021 season kicked off on Monday, the CHSAANow.com No. 2 Dragons feel they have the pieces and the mental wherewithal to battle through the season and emerge with yet another state championship win.
"The ultimate goal is always going to be that state championship," Ryan said.
That was certainly the goal a year ago. After claiming the program's first boys basketball title since 1998, the Dragons entered the 2020 state tournament as the No. 4 seed. A three-point loss to Briggsdale ended any dreams of a repeat, though the tournament would eventually be cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the loss still stung. With as much offseason work that could be done, the Dragons now enter the 2021 refreshed and a bit more focused on the task at hand.
"The whole team has been a lot more mature on and off the court," Ryan said. "There were a few problems that we had last year that we're not really noticing this year."
What they will notice is Ryan's production that he hopes to carry over from last year. As a junior, he averaged 23 points and 10 rebounds per game which was a big reason why his team again advanced to the 1A state tournament.
"Wes brings so much," De Beque coach Jake Higuera said. "He brings leadership. He brings all of the knowledge of being one of our main guys as a sophomore. He has such a strong work ethic. And as good as he's been in the past, he's looking pretty solid this year."
Jaden Jordan is also back for his senior season after averaging nearly 13 points and over seven rebounds per game. He also led the Dragons in assists with nearly five per game.
Junior Logan Winfield scored just under 10 points per game and should increase his role this season. At 6-foot-5, Dante Dejulio should provide a strong presence in the post to round out a solid group of players hoping to fulfill their championship ambitions.
"The guys that are coming back, it's a good core of guys," said. "They understand this year that it was tough transitioning to the role that everyone had (after they had won a title). Not really knowing what to expect. I think our boys have an idea of what to expect this season."
What they should expect is a tough gauntlet of competition in the 1A field. Mile High Academy enters the season as the No. 1-ranked team and Briggsdale, the team toppled the Dragons in the 1A tournament, is sitting at No. 5.
It's going to be a challenge ahead for any team looking to be the final one standing when the season is over. But many De Beque players know the feeling of claiming a championship and are heading into the 2021 hoping to experience that feeling once again.