BOULDER - There is not much secret to the Air Academy
girls basketball team.
The Kadets press defensively, feed senior standout Brittany Hernandez
in the post and hit the boards with abandon. They executed that plan to perfection Friday, as they raced to their first Class 4A championship with a 72-53 victory against D'Evelyn (Denver)
at the Coors Events Center.
Air Academy (26-2) was fueled this season by a Final Four loss a year ago, as well as by a roster filled with eight seniors who wanted to end their career on the highest of notes. They never trailed in their final game.
Hernandez was at the forefront, scoring 18 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Fellow seniors Kate Louthan
(15 points), Kellyn Roiko
(11) and Kauna Kama
(11) also scored in double figures.
"Our coach (Bob Wingett) was telling us that the way to win state is rebounding, so that kind of motivated us," said Hernandez, who had 17 points and 12 rebounds in the semifinals. "Our team was really balanced tonight."
D'Evelyn coach Chris Olson admitted Hernandez's presence was difficult to deal with directly and indirectly.
“You watched us – we played behind her, in front of her. We doubled her. We tried to zone a little bit," Olson said. "The thing tonight was they shot the ball from the perimeter so well. It just made it so tough. You had to pick your poison. When we were doubling, they’d kick it out to the other girls and they made threes."
Air Academy led 40-23 at halftime, largely because they created choice scoring opportunities by forcing 11 turnovers to that point. Also, if the Kadets didn't score on their first attempt, they often posted a second or third shot thanks to their work on the offensive boards.
Air Academy had 12 offensive rebounds in the first two quarters - five by Hernandez - and out-rebounded the Jaguars 23-10 in the first half.
“When they missed, they got the rebound. That’s what killed us in the first half," Olson added. “They’re such a good team. Man, they’re good."
The Kadets also stole a page from D'Evelyn's playbook, hitting four 3-pointers in the first half. D'Evelyn (23-4), which drilled 10 3-pointers in the semifinals against Pueblo South, hit only one trey through the first two quarters. Air Academy and D'Evelyn ended with eight and four 3-pointers, respectively.
D'Evelyn responded with improved play in the second half, but by then it was too late, especially since Air Academy shot 51 percent for the game and doubled up the Jaguars in rebounds (40 to 20).
Simply, it all added up to a big win for Air Academy, which had tested itself against the best in the state, regardless of classification. The Kadets' only losses came against 5A semifinalists Highlands Ranch and Regis Jesuit, and they beat Legacy, which played for the big-school title.
“Our schedule in December absolutely led to this," Air Academy coach Bob Wingett said. "There wasn’t going to be anything that we hadn’t already seen.”
D'Evelyn, which also was playing in its first title game, was led by Madalyn Neely
, who scored a game-best 20 points, and Laura Tyree
(12 points, four assists).