BOULDER — After another deep run in the Class B state football playoffs under coach Clint Layng, Jefferson is turning the page to basketball season.
That leaves head boys basketball coach Anthony Connole left to pick up the pieces when the football season takes a toll on his players.
“The boys have been making late runs in football, so this year’s been our best year with (injuries)," said Connole, who has led the Jefferson boys program since 2019. "Last year they came in and we had three guys in ice buckets, and (it’s) a long haul.”
By now, Connole knows Jefferson's boys sports calendar as well as anyone.
“I love it. For me, my grandpa taught here, my dad went to school here, I went to high school here, so the Panther blood runs deep in my family. It means a lot to me, it gave me a lot of opportunities,” he said. “Jefferson High really impacted my life in a very positive way to make me want to come back and help the community.”
In high school, Connole excelled on the basketball court for the Panthers. He's also had plenty of time on the bench as a coach, serving as an assistant coach when his dad, Scott, was the head girls coach and again when Layng was leading the boys basketball team.
Connole, assistant coach Brian Bullock and the rest of the current staff have continued to preach continuity and consistency.
“Basketball is one of the sports, where if you’re not shooting year-round, or at least picking it up, you know, you can’t pick it up in November and expect to be Steph Curry, you know, making all your shots," Connole said. "You got to put in some time to get there."
This season, Connole will have 27 players to spread across three teams for C-squad, junior varsity and varsity, but at a smaller Class B high school it can be difficult at times to replace large groups of seniors.
“I thought this group of seniors has done a really good job at, like, replacing Zach Zody, Dylan Root, Michael Emter. (They) were kind of my main three seniors last year, they did a great job in that leadership role," Connole said. "Well, we’ve got Dalton (Noble) and then Kael Hesford, Colt Tietje and Marcus Lee are seniors this year, and they’ve really done a great job at stepping up. ... They kind of see it, you know, these guys have been a part of two divisional trips, so they understand, they’ve been there, they have at least been a part of the program to witness that, so they understand the expectations.
“My thing is always to, like, push yourself. So, we’ve been two years in a row to divisionals, but we didn’t win a game, so this year we’re like, 'OK, we want to get there, but we want to take care of some business while we're there.' Like we talked about last year, there’s only one team that’s happy at the end of the year, and that’s the state champion. Everyone else, you know, is sad, so if you don’t want to feel this, we need to take the little things serious, so we’re trying to teach that — 'Don’t let off, don’t let off, you play like you practice.'”
This group of seven seniors has discussed making another run deep into the postseason with bigger goals on the horizon. They don't want to be a group of seniors to not make it to the divisional tournament.
One of those seniors, Hesford, has been working toward becoming one of the captains on this year’s squad. He's been playing basketball for longer than he can remember and fell in love with the sport a long time ago.
“Orange ball and an orange rim, really just putting the ball in the net,” said Hesford, who basically grew up in the Jefferson gym. “My dad is a teacher here at Jefferson High, so before school I would come into this gym and shoot every day.”
“It really means the world to me," Hesford continued. "Like, all the sports that I’ve done growing up, this is the one that I decided to stick with, and from all the hours that I’ve spent in this gym alone and a lot of struggle of, like, not playing up to my standards and finally being here and then maybe being one of the captains for all the boys I’m playing with is something that I certainly want to be, and finally being in that position after like four years of seeing it is surreal."
Another senior, Tietje, has been looking up to the Panthers since he was a little tyke.
“I always wanted to be a varsity player on the Panthers, and it’s just surreal," he said. "I mean, having all of my family (and) friends watch me in the stands, I just love it. It’s a really great atmosphere, and I just love it here."
"Our goal is to make a good run at state," Tietje added. "We just really want to get over the edge and, like, put our name down in Jefferson history. Don’t get too far ahead of us and continue to do what we’ve done for the past four years and work hard.”