Outlook: Last season was an interesting one for Basha. The Bears finished up 7-4 and lost in the first round of the playoffs, but were very competitive against the state’s elite teams. A few different bounces could have resulted in a couple more wins and a longer run in the postseason. This year’s team has the look of a top-10 squad once again.
Quarterback Zach Werlinger is one of the most accomplished returning signal-callers in the state, while running back Rajhan Meriwether has proven his worth for the past two seasons on the varsity level. Graduation has taken away the team’s top receiving threats – wide receiver Nate Phillips and tight end Ronnie Querry – so new players must step up.
The team’s defense had some trouble against top-notch offenses last year but will look to improve this season behind a standout linebacker corps, led by Brandon Rutt. Coach Bernie Busken likes the overall team speed and said it’s a group which has fully bought in.
Basha briefly had the services of Coolidge transfer J.T. Gray, one of the best college prospects in Arizona. However, he has since moved to Mississippi and won’t be playing for the Bears. The addition of Gray would have lifted Basha to contender status, but now it’s more of a wait-and-see approach. There are several nice pieces returning, but much depends on the receiving corps and the defense. The schedule is grueling, so the win-loss record is not expected to be pristine, but Basha has the weapons to be in the upper tier of Division I again.
“We are excited for the 2013 season,” Busken said. “Our players have killed it in the weight room since last December and are looking great physically. The best thing we have going right now is our great attitude and coming together as a team. We will continue to improve each day and we hope this process gets us where we want to be by the end of the season.”
Division I, Section I
Coach: Bernie Busken
Last year’s record: 7-4, lost to Desert Vista in the first round of the Division I playoffs
Returning Starters: 5 on offense/5 on defense
Top returners: Zach Werlinger, Sr., QB (189-298, 2,689 yards, 30 TD, 12 INT); Rajhan Meriwether, Sr., RB (182 carries, 1,151 yards, 10 TD); Brandon Rutt, Sr., LB (72 tackles, 3 sacks); LB Jake Carlin (62 tackles, 6 tackles for loss, 2 sacks); OL Ivan Sanchez (three-year starter).
Aug. 30 at Green Valley (Las Vegas); Sept. 6 at Centennial; Sept. 12 (Thur.) vs. Cesar Chavez; Sept. 20 vs. Pinnacle; Sept. 27 vs. Westview; Oct. 4 at Perry; Oct. 11 at Hamilton; Oct. 18 vs. Highland; Oct. 25 at Chandler; Nov. 1 vs. Gilbert
Sept. 6 at Centennial: The first in-state game for the Bears is a big one, as Centennial has been a power for years. Basha’s schedule is one of the toughest in the state from start to finish, and this should shine a light on the team’s strengths and weaknesses. The Bears will be good this season, but this game could help sort out how good.
Oct. 11 at Hamilton: Basha gave the Huskies quite a scare last year, as it led by a field goal heading into the fourth quarter before eventually losing, 31-24. Hamilton should be better this season, so the Bears will need a big-time effort to pull off the upset.
Oct. 25 at Chandler: One of the most memorable games of 2012 came between these two teams. Basha led 17-0 at halftime but the Wolves scored 41 points in the second half for a 10-point win. These teams seem to be on similar footing once again and it’s lining up to be another intriguing affair.