Young Sailors steering the ship in right direction

Mapleton senior Joe Shepard, #13, had a game-high 23 points for the Sailors versus Umpqua Valley Christian on Dec. 7. (photo Zac Burtt)

Mapleton boys showing great improvement after three games

Dec. 10, 2021 — With only seven players on their roster, some playing high school basketball for the first time, the Mapleton Sailor boys team knew there would be some growing pains. Based on the first three games of the season, it looks like the pain could be short-lived.

On Dec. 7, Umpqua Valley Christian (UVC) came to town for a non-league game with the Sailors. The Monarchs established a 15-point lead towards the end of the first half. Although Mapleton was able to close within eight points in the fourth quarter, they could never quite get over the hump and fell 56-45.

Though the loss put the Sailors at 0-3 in the season, there were many positives to take out of a hard-fought effort by the home team.

“Obviously, you’re never OK with losing, but that’s the kind of loss you can take and work with,” said Eric Wolgamott, MHS head basketball coach.

All seven players on the roster contributed significantly. The most impressive performance of the night, however, was from Joe Shepard, the lone senior on the team. Shepard had 23 points and — at times single handedly — kept the Sailors in the ballgame.

This is Shepard’s third year playing for the Mapleton basketball program. As far as Wolgamott is concerned, those years of work are paying off now. This was especially obvious in the second half versus UVC, where Shepard scored 16 of his 23 points and had numerous steals and deflections defensively.

“Joe had his best game, not of the season, but of his basketball career,” said Wolgamott. “Joe has made, from his junior to senior seasons, the biggest jumps in skill I’ve seen in my five years at Mapleton.”

Also with a great game was sophomore Keevyn Walker, who had 9 points and was a force on defense all game. Walker’s high school basketball career is only in its second year, but his potential is huge.

“Keevyn is our most aggressive player and has also improved greatly since last year,” said Wolgamott. “I think by the time he’s a senior he could be a real force, maybe even a candidate for league MVP in a few years.”

The list of contributions covers the entire roster.

Freshman Alex Burnett hit two clutch 3-pointers and is getting more confident each game.

“[Burnett] hitting two 3-pointers, not only does it help our team, but it helps his confidence even more,” said Wolgamott. “He sees the ball go through the hoop. Now he knows he can make points at the high school level, and he won't be as hesitant to shoot.”

Alex’s brother, Brian Burnett, is a sophomore. Brian was stellar on defense against UVC and is also showing improvement in keeping the Sailor’s offense moving.

“Brian is really getting good at not letting the offense get stagnant,” said Wolgamott. “Whether that’s with a pass or off the dribble, he’s realizing the importance of keeping the ball moving.”

Caleb Lewis is playing high school basketball for the first time, but with how quickly he picks things up you’d never know it.

“Lewis is a junior and this is his first year coming out and playing,” said Wolgamott. “He’s a hustler. He’s very smart, too. With him, I have to tell him once during practice, and he picks it up just like that. He’s like a sponge. For him to be able to pick things up after one time in practice is very valuable, especially because he's out there during practice coaching his teammates.”

Freshman Dom Stewart, playing competitive basketball for the first time, has been a natural on defense.

“The kid manages to get four or five steals every practice,” said Wolgamott. “He just knows how to be in the right place at the right time. He’s improved each game. Dom is very raw but the potential is high.”

Lastly is Dom’s brother Tristan Stewart. The junior is the team’s center is also improving greatly each game and could be a force under the basket before this season is over.

“Tristan is so strong, but he’s also started to develop some touch around the rim,” said Wolgamott. “If he figures out how to use his body for power, when backing an opponent down, for example, he’s going to be really consistent scorer for us down low.”

Before starting Mountain West League play next week the Sailors travel to Riddle this weekend for the Cow Creek Classic, a tournament featuring four teams from around the state. Mapleton opens on Friday versus Glendale at 4:30 p.m.