Rancho Solano boys basketball emerges as 2A juggernaut after stark improvements

A Rancho Solano basketball player attempts a pass between two defenders during a Jan. 10 practice. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

Over the past few years, the Rancho Solano Preparatory School boys basketball team has made improvements, but this year the Mustangs are emerging as a top threat at the 2A level.

So far this season, the Mustangs are 15–4, which follows an 18–10 season last year, an 8–15 2015-16 season and a 3–17 year in 2014-15. They also won their first round game in last year’s playoffs.

Head Coach Aaron Trigg is in his fifth season with the Mustangs. He said the reason for the improvements is because of the culture he’s tried to establish at the school.

A Rancho Solano basketball player looks for an opening past the defender during a Jan. 10 practice. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

“Really what we’ve tried to do is develop a culture where guys work really hard and have an expectation to compete and to win, which really changes the attitude of everyone in the program,” he said in a Jan. 10 interview.

Thus far the Mustangs seem to have bought into that mentality.

Coach Trigg said he had high attendance for summer and fall workouts. Furthermore, he said he noticed the players developing the expectation and desire to have a good year.

That expectation has turned into a reality but the Mustangs aren’t only playing teams in 2A, but also at several different levels.

They have notched wins against Moon Valley High School (12–4), Liberty High School (10–9), Highland High School (7–9) and Basha High School (8–12) who all come from either 4A, 5A or 6A.

Two of the Mustangs’ losses came against Sunnyslope High School and Brophy College Preparatory, both top-ranked teams at 5A and 6A, respectively.

Senior guard Caden Hoffman said playing against larger schools sends a statement to the rest of the state about Rancho Solano.

“It shows we can compete with anybody,” he said in a Jan. 10 interview. “The size of our school doesn’t determine how good we can be as a basketball team.”

In order to rise to that level of competitiveness, Hoffman said the team has developed a strong level of chemistry, despite some players only playing together for a short amount of time.

In fact, the team’s top scorer, senior forward Nikc Jackson, is in his first year with the team. He transferred from Sunnyside High School, a 6A school in Tucson.

The transfer came because Jackson said his dad retired from the military and moved the family to Phoenix. Jackson also said he chose Rancho Solano because of its academic reputation.

His transition to his new team, Jackson said, was easy because of the welcoming nature of his teammates.

A Rancho Solano basketball player drives the lane during a Jan. 10 practice. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

“Everyone’s been treating me like family instantly,” he said in a Jan. 11 interview. “It’s felt like I’ve known everybody for years.”

So far this season, Jackson has averaged 16.6 points per game and 8.6 rebounds per game to lead the team in both categories, according to maxpreps.com.

Furthermore, Jackson stands at 6-foot-8 making him the second tallest player on the Mustangs.

These aren’t new numbers for Jackson either. His 18.1 ppg average last year helped the Blue Devils to an 18–10 record.

This talent, however, is not the main element Jackson brings to the team, Coach Trigg said.

While that talent has clearly helped the Mustangs, Coach Trigg said, it his Jackson’s level of competitiveness and drive to win a state championship that has bolstered the team.

“He’s a competitive kid and he brings that every day in practice,” Coach Trigg said. “He hates to lose and I think that raises the attitude and the edge everybody plays with.”

Jackson’s stature complements the Mustangs’ other towering forward Hunter Ruck who tops out at 6-foot-9. Both players lead the team in rebounds and blocks.

Coach Trigg said having this height pressures opposing defenses because they have to account for these two down low on every play.

This makes, he said, the guards’ jobs easier because defenses are trying to key-in on both Jackson and Ruck while taking the pressure away from the outside shooters.

A Rancho Solano basketball player brings the ball up court during a Jan. 10 practice. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

Sophomore guard Kiimani Holt (14.9 ppg) and Hoffman (9.6 ppg) seem to be beneficiaries of this style of play in scoring.

Hoffman said each player fits into his role perfectly and everyone trusts their teammates to fill their role, even if it means making a bit of a sacrifice to do so.

“We can’t all score 20 points to be successful,” he said. “We have to take away a little bit from each other’s games to improve the overall game.”

The Mustangs are still a couple weeks away from the playoff starting. Coach Trigg said at this point he wants his team to remain healthy so he can have his full squad in the playoffs.

At this point, Coach Trigg said, there’s not much the team can totally revamp so that leads to perfecting what he already has in place.

“Really, you’re just trying to peak at this point,” he said. “You want to be competing as hard as you can all the time and you really try and fine-tune those things so you’re ready to compete at the highest level in the last few weeks of the season.”

News Services Reporter Josh Martinez can be contacted at jmartinez@newszap.com or at 623-445-2738

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