Kelly Arnold of Nucla is in new territory this basketball season. While he previously coached the high school boys and girls varsity teams, this year he’s coaching both at the same time. In a year like no other, and in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Arnold said he has hope that both Mustang teams can advance to postseason play this year.

Arnold admitted he is quite busy in the evenings during the 2021 basketball season, but that all seems to be going well. Shortened by the Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA), the season is just six week longs, with three weeks permitted for the playoffs.  

The Nucla teams began practicing in open gyms when allowed back in December. Still, their first official day of practice wasn’t until Jan. 18. Now, the teams alternate practice times. Sometimes the boys have early practice, and the girls late. They change it weekly, Arnold said.

He’s assisted on the boys team by Mike Rummell, who also coached the Norwood’s varsity boys team the last few years. Debbie Wyltulka is assisting the girls team. 

Norwood has combined with the Mustangs, and Arnold said the blend is “going great.”

“It gives both schools a chance to actually have a team,” he told The Norwood Post over the weekend.

The boys include six seniors this year: Riley Porter, Tyler Wytulka, Logan Weimer, Aaron Case, Garret Littlejohn and Sam Puderbaugh.

The girls seniors are Jenna Baugh, Emmi Rushing and Ashley Steele.

Both teams, Arnold said, are quite young with many freshmen on board.

With a 3-5 record, Arnold said the boys lost two games that they shouldn’t have.

“Real close games that we let slip through our fingers,” he said. “But the boys are doing well in learning to play together. We have the six seniors and then a few juniors, but the rest are freshman, and they’re trying to mesh and understand each other. They’re doing a good job of that. They work well together. They’re willing to work, and they’re a good group of kids.”

The girls are 4-3, and Arnold said the dynamics are similar.

“It’s their first year with a new coach, learning new systems,” he said. “They are really figuring out it takes all of us on the same page, working together to achieve the same goal. They’re starting to understand that and working toward that goal.”

With mostly sophomores and freshmen, Arnold said the girls team has a bright future. 

He agreed the COVID-19 pandemic has been an adjustment for all. He said the world has been affected, but high school athletes are having their own experience with wearing masks on the court and figuring out social distancing. He said it’s difficult for families, too, who aren’t permitted in most of the gyms the Mustangs travel to for away games.

For players who are used to having a crowd supporting them in the stands, he said it’s very different this year.

The Mustangs, both boys and girls teams, will travel to Fruita on Thursday. The following week the teams have games on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. They’ll finish their season the week after with games on Tuesday and Thursday.

There are no districts this year — only regionals to make it to the state tournament.

“We have hope,” Arnold said. “It’s a matter of winning games. We have to put ourselves high enough in ranking to qualify.”