Maricopa boys basketball

Paul Gretkierewicz goes through drills with the Maricopa High School boys basketball team during a practice before the 2019-20 season.

MARICOPA — The past couple of years haven’t been too kind to the Rams, but they are seeing improvement.

Maricopa finished with three more wins last season than the one before and moved from last to fifth in its region. Now, the Rams have moved up a division to 6A and are “climbing the ladder” with their hard work and daily dedication.

It was a tough season for first-year head coach Paul Gretkierewicz as Maricopa finished 5-20 (2-8) in the 5A San Tan League, but the boy’s program hopes to develop a winning habit and establish a theme of gratitude for this season.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some schools around the country won’t be playing basketball this year. The Arizona Interscholastic Association almost pulled the plug on winter sports in Arizona, and the Rams couldn’t be more grateful to play basketball this season.

“Everyday I tell our players how lucky we are to be together and can play,” Gretkierewicz said. “Not everyone in the country is as lucky as we are and we can’t take that for granted. We get to enjoy time working together and competing.”

On Jan. 8, the AIA executive board made the decision to cancel winter sports. However, on Jan. 12, the AIA got back together and decided to revisit their decision. After a re-vote, the AIA board voted 5-4 in favor of returning to a winter sports season.

“My first thought is always serving our players and I knew they were hurt and disappointed with the canceling of the season,” Gretkierewicz said. “When the decision was changed, I was ecstatic. I knew how happy and excited the players were to get back on the floor and have a season.”

The AIA ruled that the winter sports season could start on Monday with mask usage for everyone for the entirety of the game. Each school will complete the AIA COVID-19 Monitoring Form the day of games and up to two parents or legal guardians may attend their student-athletes home games.

“My main goal is to keep the players and staff safe throughout the whole season,” Gretkierewicz said. “With the help of Maricopa High School, the AIA and the county health department, we have many protocols to keep students safe this season. As a staff, we have used more virtual strategies to share information as we have had less time in the offseason to be on the floor.”

This season the Rams have moved into the 6A Desert Southwest Region, where they have some of the largest schools in the state. Maricopa will have the opportunity to take on some the best schools like Mountain Pointe, Chandler, Paradise Honors and others. Even though Maricopa struggled last season, they are ready for the task.

“I want to develop winning habits, enhancing the program’s culture and continue to make strides,” Gretkierewicz said. “You can’t get to the top of the ladder in one step. It takes time and continuing to take steps. I want to see the program continuing to improve and I want to see success from the players in our program.”

The Rams kick off their season Tuesday on the road at San Luis.