The Denver East girls basketball team is so accustomed to the stigma that the Angels don’t even pay attention to it anymore. Essentially, teams scoff at the Angels’ gaudy records each season, claiming they are a product of the Denver Prep League, which is not exactly known for its top-to-bottom prowess.
Perhaps in some seasons, playing in the league made the Angels record appear a bit above the team’s actual level of ability. But this season, the Angels (19-5) have proven they are among the top handful of programs in Class 5A.
“It doesn’t bother us,” East coach Dwight Berry said of the stigma. “We’re just trying to stay under the radar and take it as it comes. We don’t have to prove ourselves. We just go out and play.”
The Angels enter Wednesday night’s Sweet 16 contest against Ponderosa (Parker) as winners of 13 straight. They are a squad that has become known for much more than standout Shae Kelley. Point guard Samantha Sanders and center Deidra Smith have added their own dynamics, while Chelsea Small and Sydney Small are dual threats from the inside and outside. And these players don’t buy the DPL perception either – at least not this season.
“In the beginning of the season, we played some top competition and we beat quality teams like Monarch and Heritage,” Smith said. “We always play close games against the top teams in 5A.”
Winners of only four games last season, Cherokee Trail (Aurora) has worked its way to the Sweet 16. The Cougars (18-7), under the tutelage of former Ponderosa and Columbine coach Jim Bartok, ousted Jefferson County League champion Arvada West 66-43 in the second round and will travel to top-seeded Legacy (Broomfield) on Wednesday.
As much as the victory says about Bartok’s bunch, it also is an indictment on 5A Jeffco. Its best team was not only beaten by a No. 5 seed, but soundly so. Green Mountain, Jeffco’s No. 3 team, was walloped 79-27 by ThunderRidge (Highlands Ranch) in the second round.
Only second-place finisher Ralston Valley (Arvada) was relatively competitive in its second-round game, losing 47-35 to Air Academy (US Air Force Academy).
An upset, but not really
From the standpoint of seeding, No. 4 Longmont's 44-41 overtime win against No. 1 Centaurus (Lafayette) in the 4A Sweet 16 looked monumental. But hang on a second. Keep in mind Longmont all but had assured itself a No. 1 seed (or at the very worst, a No. 2) when darting to a 20-1 mark with its lone loss to Broomfield.
Two surprising losses in the Northern League tournament, to Roosevelt and Thompson Valley, knocked the Trojans all the way down to a No. 4. Most teams, though, understand this isn’t a fourth seed shockingly whipping its way through the bracket. It’s a No. 1 that had a brief slip at the end of the regular season.
Longmont plays Cheyenne Mountain (Colorado Springs) on Saturday in the quarterfinals at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, although the best 4A game could be the Mullen (Denver)-Mesa Ridge (Colorado Springs) tilt.
She said it: “We’re not quite at our top form yet, but we just keep doing what we do. We don’t slack off at practice at all. We go harder and harder every time so we can keep that No. 1 spot.” -- Broomfield junior Tyana Medema, assessing her three-time defending 4A champion team as it enters the deeper rounds of the postseason.
Clear-cut surprise: While Highlands Ranch is the clear-cut No. 1 seed in 5A, its next opponent Grand Junction is probably the biggest surprise among the final 16.