‘The key to our season’: Steamboat grad helps Colorado Mesa men’s basketball to undefeated start
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — When Mac Riniker graduated Steamboat Springs High School in 2019, he was on top of the world. As the Western Slope Player of the Year and a first-team all state selection, Riniker was one of the best in the state.
And he knew when he went to college at Colorado Mesa University, he’d be at the bottom of the totem pole once again. And he was.
The 6-foot-5 guard red-shirted in the 2019-20 season and is now playing his first season of college basketball. Despite his youth, Riniker is a starter and a top scorer and leads his team in steals. The Mavericks, a Div. II team in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, are 7-0 and ranked No. 9 in the nation among Div. II teams.
The Mavericks were supposed to have a more veteran roster, but some COVID-related decisions, as well as a pair of season-ending injuries, forced the younger portion of the squad to step up.
“As we started to lose guys, it became clearer and clearer that he can do whatever we ask of him,” said Colorado Mesa men’s basketball head coach Mike DeGeorge. “He doesn’t have to be limited to one role. He can do all kinds of different things, and that’s going to be a really big advantage for us. He’s certainly continued to evolve. It’s easier and easier to see the value of it as we’ve gone through the season.”
Riniker unexpectedly started the first game, and with a strong defensive performance, earned a starting spot. He’s now been on the floor to begin all seven games, averaging 10.6 points on 44.4% three-point shooting. He also has a team-high 13 steals, the second-most rebounds with 37 and four blocks.
“He’s everybody’s favorite player, because he just plays so hard,” DeGeorge said.
Riniker isn’t too humble to admit he’s strong on defense, thanks to the skills he learned as a Sailor under head coach Michael Vandahl.
“I had the luxury of watching one of his games live streamed, and he just reminded me of the same old Mac who played for us, using his defense to fuel his offense,” Vandahl said. “It was really cool to see him having success. He worked pretty hard to get to where he is. I think he’s got a bright future as a college basketball player.”
Despite having the fourth-best scoring average on the Mesa team and one of the strongest three-point percentages, Riniker said he needs to work on his offense.
“I’m not the best shooter even though I’ve been shooting pretty good lately, I guess,” he said. “I’ve been getting lucky with that.”
“He never gave himself enough credit for his offensive game,” Vandahl added.
On either side of the court, Riniker is versatile. He is able to go wherever he’s needed and guard any position.
“He’s really, honestly, been the key to our season,” DeGeorge said. “We’ve had a number of injuries and lost guys for the year, so Mac’s versatility has been huge, because we are pretty thin up front.”
Riniker points to the older players on the team for his smooth transition into college basketball. During his red-shirt year he watched them and played with them and was able to incorporate parts of their game into his own.
“I was able to get all the reps as a freshman and get all the extra reps with the older guys helping me and teaching me the way instead of being thrown right into games,” he said. “I had a full year of practice, basically.”
Mesa hasn’t sailed to all seven wins, either. There have been a few tough battles that saw the boys in maroon come out on top, despite having no crowd to provide them extra energy.
On Dec. 12, Mesa beat Chadron State 77-68 in a double-overtime contest in which Riniker posted 16 points. The next weekend, the Mavericks eked out a 100-98 win over Adams State, a team they’ll see again in February.
Last year, with Riniker watching from the sidelines, the Mavericks went 21-10, winning the RMAC championship. They advanced to the NCAA Regional Tournament, which was canceled due to the pandemic.
“I just want to keep helping my team win, and hopefully as a school and a team, our goal is to win the RMAC championships again,” he said. “So, hopefully we can make that come true.”
To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.
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Steamboat Springs 2021 graduate Thomas Lewer will always set lofty goals.