The Gazette Boys' Basketball 5A-4A Peak Performer of the Year: Hunter Maldonado, Vista Ridge

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Photo - Vista Ridge forward Hunter Maldonado jumps for a shot during the Sand Creek and Vista Ridge boys basketball game at Sand Creek High School on Wednesday, January 25, 2017. Photo by Stacie Scott, The Gazette
Vista Ridge forward Hunter Maldonado jumps for a shot during the Sand Creek and Vista Ridge boys basketball game at Sand Creek High School on Wednesday, January 25, 2017. Photo by Stacie Scott, The Gazette

Vista Ridge's Hunter Maldonado pushed his team into the first day of March as the Wolves made good on their move to the 5A classification with a berth into the round of 16.

Turns out, Maldonado's silky smooth game didn't take a hit as the stage and opposition grew in the waning days of his high school basketball career. He's never been one to back down from a bigger and more grandiose challenge on the court - his next one, of course, awaiting him in Laramie, Wyo.

"I want to do whatever it takes and whatever the team needs," said Maldonado, The Gazette Boys' Basketball 5A-4A Peak Performer of the Year, who will join the University of Wyoming in a few months. "Whatever (Wyoming) coach (Allen) Edwards needs from me, I'll be happy."

Maldonado is the kind of player that will take his role and thank you for it. In a season where the Wolves started three sophomores, they needed even more from their star, who was coming off a sensational junior campaign that helped propel the Wolves into the 4A semifinals.

They needed his scoring, his rebounding, his dishes. Most of all, though, they needed him to lead.

"He was more than just our teammate, he was our oldest brother," sophomore guard Julius Dowell said. "Learning from Hunter, you learn things not only on the basketball court but off it, too."

Maldonado was tops on his team in points (23.7 per game), rebounds (6.5) and assists (2.2), and the young but dangerous Wolves ran all the way into the round of 16 for a date with the state's No. 1 team, Eaglecrest. The Wolves trailed by just five at half against the Raptors, and Maldonado finished with a game-high 24 points, but the eventual state champs opened it up in the second half en route to a 55-37 win.

Afterward, Maldonado told his teammates he had "no regrets".

"For your senior leader to say that he laid it all on the court and he has no regrets, that's all you hope for," Vista Ridge coach Joe Hites said. "When you look back, you just knew you gave everything you had and hopefully people benefited because you were a part of it. I know our whole entire program benefited from having him around."

This spring, Maldonado hopes to make another mark as he joins the track and field team. Still craving a state title to cap his career, the senior agreed to jump in important meets and already qualified for state in the high jump with a leap of 6-foot-4 in the first meet of the season.

"It's just amazing how athletic he is," said sprinter Will Haywood, Maldonado's friend since preschool. "We had to convince him, but it's really important for all of us (seniors) to get a banner for our gym."

Then it's on to a bigger, more grandiose stage.

Maldonado, who said he's unsure what his role will be as a freshman, will join the Cowboys, who bounced back from a losing year with a winning record in Edwards' first season, and made the College Basketball Invitational.

Maldonado admitted that the idea of bringing the Cowboys back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015 has crossed his mind.

"I definitely want to try and help Wyoming get there," Maldonado said. "Just to have the opportunity to be there, be on TV on the biggest stage college has to offer, I think it would be something really cool. It's been one of my dreams since growing up."