PALMDALE – Ron Holden is the first to admit that the sight of a 6-foot-1, 170-pound guard taking jump balls against players a half-foot taller – and substantially thicker – is an odd spectacle. Holden should know. Out of necessity, he spent his junior year at Highland High last season in such a role. “I’d walk out there, look up, and I’d be like, ‘I’ve got to guard this guy?’ ” he said. “I could hear people laughing in the stands, saying, ‘He’s not going to be able to do that.’ AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORERose Parade grand marshal Rita Moreno talks New Year’s Day outfit and ‘West Side Story’ remake “It was true most of the time.” Remarkably, Holden held his own, helping lead the undersized Bulldogs to a second-place finish in the Golden League and a Southern Section Div. I-AA quarterfinal appearance. “He did really well,” Highland coach Jeff Smith said. “He’s just a very aggressive player. Defensively, he’s in your face, and he doesn’t back down to anybody, and that’s what makes the world of difference.” The experience toughened Holden. “I’m basically used to contact down low – it’s nothing now,” he said. “I got tossed around every day last year. Every day.” Highland will count on Holden’s moxie as it looks to separate itself in what figures to be an intensely competitive league race. The good news for the Bulldogs is the addition of newcomers Dino Anderson, a 6-5 junior, and sophomores Kyisean Reed (6-6) and Buck Stewart (6-4) have brought the team needed size, which will enable Holden to return to his natural shooting-guard position. Holden – Highland’s only returning starter – and senior point guard Donovan Phillips give the team a formidable backcourt combination it will count on to challenge consensus favorite Antelope Valley. Defending league champion Quartz Hill, which last season ended Highland’s run of two consecutive co-championships and Lancaster’s four-year title run, figures to be in the mix, too. The Rebels return several important players, including center Troy Ross, a 6-5, 260-pound low-post player who is averaging 20 points and 15 rebounds, and junior guard Alexander Dantzler, who is averaging 13 points. Lancaster’s Javaughn Esspiritt, a 6-4 senior forward/guard; Palmdale’s Chris Hicks, a 6-3 junior guard; and Littlerock senior forward Sean Van Arsdale are among the league’s top players. Knight, led by Highland transfer Steven De La Torre, a 6-2 guard, and point guard Robert Thomas also could be a factor. Highland, which has excellent team speed but lacks experience and consistent perimeter shooting, is still tinkering with offensive and defensive systems and will continue to do so into league play, Smith said. The Bulldogs have played exclusively zone and man-to-man defenses in different games. Highland expects to have to execute any system it employs nearly flawlessly win the league title. “If we execute every single game and every single play, and we play hard-nosed defense, I think we can beat anybody,” Holden said. — Gideon Rubin (818)713-3607 [email protected] local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!