The expectation among basketball players at Catalina Foothills High School is as simple as it is bold. The Falcons expect to win a title this fall.
Coached by Doug D’Amore, the team came close to winning it all last year when they rode a wave of momentum all the way to the semifinals of the 16-team 4A playoffs, despite being the 11th seeded team in the field.
The Falcons finished 22-8 last year, losing to eventual runner-up Deer Valley, 52-45, in the semifinal game.
D’Amore finds himself with plenty of talent on the roster this year, with rising senior Hayden Moser leading the way, while center Will Menaugh figures to be a larger-than-life presence in the paint.
Both student athletes are tasked with assuming the leadership role that Carson James played last year. James, who graduated last year, took his talents to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
The early results for D’Amore have been promising, with a host of players of all ages showing the right mixture of work ethic and eagerness to learn on the court.
“We have a lot of returners from last year,” he said. “So, the nice part is we are further along than we normally are. On the flip side, we are figuring out roles and who’s going to fill different spots that were missing from last year. Overall, we’ve spent a lot of time together with this group since they were freshmen, so we do have really good chemistry that we’re looking on building on.”
Moser is expected to play a large part in building that chemistry, filling in the leading scorer role that James and 2018 graduate, Sam Beskind, filled for the team.
The wily senior, who committed to play for Division III power Pitzer College, expects nothing less than a championship for the Falcons after kicking at the door the last two seasons.
“We haven’t made it to the state championship yet, and we keep getting closer and closer,” Moser said. “So, I think it’s taught us that we need to stay focused the whole season, but at the same time, when it comes down to the nitty-gritty stuff, we just can’t take any little detail off.”
Moser said the team’s veteran core learned a lot about the game from their seven-point playoff loss last season. They found out the hard way that every little mistake matters in a do-or-die contest.
“We lost because I don’t foul in a certain situation, or I if I take a bad shot in a certain situation,” Moser said. “It’s just that little things make a big difference is what we learned from that game, I think.”
D’Amore knows that replacing someone like James or Beskind, who is on scholarship at Stanford University, is virtually impossible, but he believes the key to continued success at the high school level depends on players listening and learning from those that preceded them so they can continue on in their stead.
“You really don’t replace kids like him, Sam Beskind, Spencer Lewis,” D’Amore said. “Those guys, what they do is they set a tone for your program and in essence their culture and their example is carried on in the program.”
The Falcons have built one of the more consistent programs in Southern Arizona, winning at least 20 games in each of D’Amore’s six seasons as coach.
Menaugh believes the team’s steady performance under their coach is direct result of the comradery built in preseason practice, allowing them to know each other’s games inside and out.
“Everyone comes out and works hard every day,” Menaugh said. “We have a lot of trust in each other, we’re going to work hard for each other, and we’re going to work as a team to beat the other good teams in the state.”
D’Amore, in his humble way, passed off the team’s success to his players, saying their dedication, both on the court and in the classroom, is what allows the team to succeed when the season tips off.
“The kids work hard,” he said. “They’re great kids, they’re strong in the classroom, they understand our philosophy and they buy into it. So really, all credit goes to the kids and their ability to just work every day and meet the demands of our program.”
D’Amore learned the ins and outs of coaching from his late father, Doug Sr., who taught just about every sport possible in the Tucson area for decades.
The elder D’Amore passed on a love of sport that spread to his son, who is the winningest coach in Catalina Foothills history.
For all his success, D’Amore knows that the players are the ones that matter most, with the program’s fate resting in their hands.
He believes the Falcons’ players, like Moser and Menaugh, have more than enough talent and on-court chemistry to fly higher than any team in school history, they just have to put those aspects to good use, once the season tips off against Mountain View Wednesday, Dec. 4.
“My favorite part of this job is the kids,” D’Amore said. “High school kids are a blast to be around. They have lots of energy. They’re goofy. They keep me up to date with all the new lingos and tech world. And they’re always teaching me things. I love the energy they bring every day, and I just hope we can keep up our success.”
It’s that passion for coaching that gives players like Moser confidence that the Falcons are ready to break down their final barrier, bringing the school’s first state title home in the spring.
The senior forward believes the team’s path to a title is much clearer than in year’s past, with longtime power, Shadow Mountain, breaking in a new coaching staff and crosstown rival Salpointe Catholic turning over its roster.
“The biggest thing is a state championship,” Moser said. I think this is the year—Shadow Mountain is gone, so I really think our biggest rival is across the town. We know them well, they know us well, so it’s really just a battle to see who can focus on the little details.
“And the ultimate goal is just to win, whatever comes with that personally is nice, but winning is what ultimately matters this year.”