By Will Connolly
With their most wins in five seasons, the Colorado Mesa Mavericks have continued their rise in Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference supremacy. At 19-10, with an in-conference record of 14-8, the Mavs finished the season at sixth in the RMAC. This is quite an accomplishment considering the conference boasts the likes of nationally ranked schools like Colorado School of Mines (No. 10), Metro State University (No. 12), Angelo State University (No. 17) and the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs (No. 21). And with wins over both UCCS and Angelo State, along with some very close battles with Colorado Mines and Metro State; CMU continues to climb the RMAC ladder.
And still, a first round exit in the RMAC Tournament was a tough one to swallow, as the Mavericks surely felt they could’ve beat the Mountain Lions; much like they did earlier in the season. That win signified the Mavs emergence as a contender. As UCCS came into the game undefeated and ranked 2nd in the country. Player of the Year candidate, Derrick White, went off for his usual 34 points to accompany eight rebounds and five assists. But on that night, he was out-shined by an opposing Maverick: Junior center, Ryan Stephan. As Stephan went for a career-high 40 points to go along with 15 rebounds; his 10th double-double of the season.
The junior out of Green Mountain High School in Lakewood, Colo. came on strong for the Mavericks this season. Averaging the second most points per game in the entire country (25.3), Stephan has been a problem for defenders all season long. Scoring in double-digits in all but one game this season, the 6’10” center has found the ability to get to the rack with relative ease. He’s demonstrated this by eclipsing 20+ points on 22 different occasions this season; bursting out for 30-plus six times; and even putting up an incredible 40 in the aforementioned contest.
Mesa should be optimistic about the future as well, as their second leading scorer, Julian Vasquez, will be returning to the squad next season. At 14.3 points per game, Vasquez might not be the prolific scorer that Stephan is, but he still provides a consistency that is unmatched in today’s game. Another one of Vasquez’s most redeeming qualities is his ability to step-up in big-time situations. For instance, in CMU’s biggest games of the season (CSM, UCCS, MSU), he broke out for at least 20 points in each and every contest; demonstrating his leadership through scoring. Mark my words: The combo of Stephan and Vasquez is one to keep your eye on in the coming season.
And although it’s unlikely that the Mavericks will garner a bid in the 2015 NCAA Division II Tournament, there should be a great deal of optimism heading into the 2015-16 season. Making it to the RMAC Tournament for a 7th consecutive season, CMU can now be labeled as one of the premier schools in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.