With a sweep at the Holiday Classic tournament at Beaver Creek last week, it looks like the once-dominant Shelby School Iguanas are once again playing their way to a respectable season.
Only a few seasons ago, the Shelby School basketball team was one of the most accomplished athletic squads in the Rim country.
The team, made up of middle school youngsters and coached by Steve Rensch, played an ambitions schedule of about 30 games.
Traveling the state, the Iguanas managed to outplay teams representing schools with student bodies much larger than their own. Some of Shelby's wins were over teams representing Phoenix, Tucson and Flagstaff.
Star of that Iguana squad was the coach's son, Dallas, who is now the leading scorer for the Mesa Mountain View Toros.
Two other Shelby athletes, Nikki Cassuto and Alex Cassuto, are playing well for the Payson High School varsity.
Since that group departed Shelby three years ago, not much has been heard from the Iguanas.
Entering the tournament, the new version of the Iguanas sported a so-so 4-5 record.
According to Rensch, Shelby's starters two eighth-graders, two seventh-graders and a sixth-grader struggled against strictly eighth-grade competition.
"We sometimes get overwhelmed on the boards and had trouble holding the lead in the fourth quarter," he said.
But at the Holiday Classic, Shelby strung together four consecutive wins to claim the tournament title.
In the four-team tournament format, a round robin was played and the results used to seed the teams into consolation and championship games, Rensch said.
Beaver Creek, Prescott Glassford Hills, Chino Valley Heritage and Shelby were entered in the Classic.
"It turned out that the four teams were pretty much even," Rensch said.
In the eight-game round robin, only one contest was decided by more than five points and three went into overtime.
Shelby opened the fray with a 23-20 victory over Glassford Hills. Sixth-grader Oliver Lewinson scored on an offensive rebound with 30 seconds remaining to put the game on ice, Rensch said.
Shelby upped its tournament record to 2-0 with a 32-27 victory over Heritage.
The key to the victory, Rensch said, was a full-court press that helped Shelby overcome a much taller Heritage team. Jeff Mulcahey paced the Iguanas with 16 points.
In the third round, Shelby locked horns with another team, Beaver Creek, that sported players much taller than the Shelby crew.
Riding the strong rebounding of Harper Kamp, Shelby won 23-18.
The trio of victories pushed Shelby into the championship clash against Glassford Hills.
Because Glassford's hot-shooting point guard was the key to the team's offense, Rensch opted to use a box and one defense.
The coach assigned Morgan Cassuto to cover Glassford's standout guard.
"Morgan did an excellent job holding him to five points," Rensch said.
With 12 seconds remaining in the see-saw showdown, Mulcahey hit one of two free throws to push Shelby out to a 19-17 lead.
After that free throw, "Glassford never got another shot," Rensch said.
Now sporting an 8-5 record, Shelby returned to action last night in Camp Verde (results not available at press time). The team visits the Rim Country Middle School Mavericks Jan 16. Tip-off is 3:30 p.m.