VIDEO: Cherry Creek junior Jana Van Gytenbeek's highlights against Highlands Ranch.
Things are looking up for the Stanford Cardinal. As the 2018-19 girls basketball season hits the second half, the top performers in each classification are establishing their position as player of the year candidates.
Three of the players to make the list will be playing for Stanford University in the next two years, showing that girls basketball in Colorado is certainly filled with high-level players. So, how does one figure out who is in the running for POY honors?
It takes an analytical balance to see how personal success figures into the overall success of the team. There are individuals who can certainly make the list even if the team isn't dominant in the class. Just think, how would that team be playing if they didn't have a POY candidate on the floor every night?
Of last year's POYs, two return this year (Evergreen's Claudia Dillon
and Yuma's Cody Robinson
) but have seen the talent in class around them grow. Makenna Bodette graduated from St. Mary's (Colorado Springs)
a year ago and was the 3A POY despite not leading her team in scoring (13.2 points per game). It was her overall presence on the floor that proved to be valuable for her team and even with her gone, the Pirates are playing at a high level thanks to Josephine Howery
picking up that torch and running with it.
As the playoff picture starts to clear up with February just right around the corner, plenty of familiar faces are back in the POY conversation. Some new faces are also making noise. This list of candidates to this point is by no means official, but as the race for the award starts to heat up, these are certainly some players worth looking into.Class 5AFrancesca Bellibi, Sr., Regis Jesuit (Aurora)
– Belibi's ESPN highlights aren't the reason that she makes this list, but they're good frames of references to show what she is capable of. The Regis Jesuit senior and Stanford commit averages 22.2 points per game, which is second in all of 5A. She also pulls in 12.4 rebounds a game, top-three in the class. She was dominant in a 79-55 win over defending state champion Grandview as she scored 32 points, grabbed 16 rebounds and blocked three shots. Thanks to solid guard play from Avery Vansickle
, Belibi can't be the only focal point for opposing defenses. With Belibi paving the way, the Raiders are looking to win a state title that eluded them a year ago.Jana Van Gytenbeek, Jr., Cherry Creek (Greenwood Village)
– Just a junior, Van Gytenbeek has worked her way into the top five when it comes to scoring and assists in 5A. Her 19.1 points a game is a team best for the Bruins, but Van Gytenbeek is far from selfish. She records 4.6 assists a game, showing that she has the ability and desire to get her teammates involved in the action. And in doing so, she's not careless. Her 1.83 assist to turnover ratio is fifth best in 5A. Like Belibi, Van Gytenbeek will play collegiately at Stanford, but the Bruins will get to enjoy her presence on the court for another year before she heads west.Raegan Beers, Fr., Valor Christian (Highlands Ranch)
– The primary reason that a Valor Christian freshman makes the list is that the Valor Christian sophomore who would be here is out for the season. Following an injury to Kindyll Wetta
, Raegan Beers has emerged as a dominant force in the 5A Jeffco League. She ranks sixth in the state in scoring at 18.9 points per game. Her 191 total rebounds and 12.7 rebounds per game are No. 1 in 5A. Even if Beers isn't named player of the year for this season, she'll have three more chances and her game could only get better when Valor's star point guard returns next season.
Other condenders: Denali Hughes
, Sr., Vista PEAK Prep (Aurora)
; Kasey Neubert
, Sr., Highlands Ranch
; Emerson Herrmann
, Sr., Monarch (Louisville)
; Alisha Davis
, Sr., Grandview (Aurora).Class 4AAshten Prechtel, Sr., Discovery Canyon (Colorado Springs)
– It's not hard to find Prechtel on the basketball court. Just find the tallest head on the floor and that's her. The Stanford commit certainly knows how to use her height to her advantage. She's second in 4A for scoring at 21.5 points per game. That average, however, accounts for more than 50 percent of the Thunder's point total each game. She grabs 15.2 boards per game, which is the best in 4A and second in all classifications. She's also keen on blocking shots as she turns away 5.2 a game, second best in 4A. She has two triple-doubles this year and has recorded a double-double in 12 games, tied for second this season.Hannah Simental, Jr., Pueblo West
– The younger brother of a state championship winning guard for the Cyclones, Simental plays with every bit as much fire as her sibling. She leads 4A in scoring at 23.5 points per game. She has scored at least 25 points in eight of the 14 games she's played. Her 3.9 rebounds and 4.1 steals per game makes her a vital piece of the Cyclones all-around performance. She has been up against of the best teams in the state in Air Academy and Valor Christian and has still performed up to her standards. If she continues to control the flow of the offense and shoot better than 50 percent on the year, the Cyclones are in for a deep playoff run.Gabi Lucero, Sr., Pueblo South
– The Colts' senior center is an old-school post player. She's going to fight for every point and every rebound, and there may not be a more physical player in the entire state. She's fourth in 4A in scoring (20.7 points per game) and third in rebounds (13.2). To see her go for around 24 points and 12 rebounds a game is a common sight. With South Central League play in full swing, the intensity of the Pueblo rivalries will only up her level of play and provide motivation for the Colts to get back to the 4A state championship game where they lost to Evergreen last year. Other contenders:
Claudia Dillon, Sr., Evergreen; Daija Robbins
, Sr., Thomas Jefferson (Denver)
; Serin Dunne
, Jr., Mesa Ridge (Colorado Springs).Class 3AMegan Engesser, Sr., Colorado Springs Christian
– For two years in a row, Colorado Springs Christian has been the runner-up for the 3A title. Engesser is playing as if the only acceptable outcome this season is coming away with a championship. She leads 3A with 22.1 points per game and is relentless on the defensive side of the ball. Her five steals a game are top 10 in 3A and she clearly has the ability to turn those steals into points for the Lions. Her battle later this week with Josephine Howery should be one of the marquee matchups in all of 3A this season.Josephine Howery, Jr., St. Mary's
– Howery is continuing right where she left off a year ago when she led the Pirates to their first 3A girls basketball title. She's averaging 21 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. In the four Tri-Peaks League games that the Pirates have played, her scoring average jumped to 29.5 points per game. The bigger the stage gets, the more she rises to the occasion. With a looming showdown with Colorado Springs Christian just days away, she'll look to continue that trend. In the three games against CSCS last year, Howery averaged 15 points, almost two points a game better than her season average. If the Pirates are going to defend their title, Howery will look to perform in a similar fashion against one of the state's top teams.Alexis Garcia, So., The Vanguard School (Colorado Springs)
– If there's any indication that the Tri-Peaks League is deep in talent, look no further than the sophomore from the Vanguard School. She ranks fourth in the state (and league) in scoring at 18.1 points per game. What sets her apart from the others in this conversation is that her defensive effort is every bit as impressive. At 5.9 steals per game she sits at No. 2 in the state in that category and it has helped the Coursers take a big step forward this year. Other contenders: Caileen Sienknecht
, Sr., Manitou Springs
; Melissa Wilson
, Sr., Centauri (La Jara)
; Shaya Chenoweth
, Sr., Grand Valley (Parachute)
; Rachel Ingram
, Sr., Colorado Springs ChristianClass 2AKendra Parra, Jr., Del Norte
– Parra is one of the biggest reasons that Del Norte is one of just two undefeated teams remaining in 2A. She's the classification's leading scorer at 24.6 points per game. She does her best to produce consistently across all facets of the game. She has the ability to pull down eight rebounds (in a 58-18 win over Monte Vista), dish out nine assists (in a 75-20 win over Center) or grab 12 steals (in an 86-21 win over Crested Butte). And this isn't a player who excels just on her level. Her top scoring performances came against a couple of 3A teams. She scored 31 in a 62-42 win over Salida and 36 in a 69-40 win over Lamar. She has shown consistently that she has the ability to be one of the top players in the state, regardless of classification.Kaitlyn Day, Jr., Dawson School (Lafayette)
– The junior standout doesn't have the staggering point total that others in the class might, but her balanced approach to the game has paid dividends for the Mustangs this year. She's been held to less than 10 points just once this season and it was in one of the team's two losses this year. In the first four league games of the year for Dawson, Day is averaging 15 points per game and has turned the ball over just four times. Her 5.4 rebounds and 4.1 steals certainly help the team, but her ability to take care of the ball (one turnover per game) is an underrated stat to look at when considering the success the Mustangs have had this season.Carson Collins, Sr., Hotchkiss
– The Hotchkiss senior does most of her work in the post and it shows in each of her stat lines. She hasn't attempted a 3-point shot all year as she settles for high-percentage opportunities. She's shooting 52 percent on the year and is the only player for the Bulldogs who averages double figures. She's also pulling down 10.3 rebounds a game making her one of the most dominant post players in the Western Slope area. She hasn't scored more than 20 in a game since early December but did record double-doubles in three of her first four games after the winter break. Those were all against league opponents.
Cody Robinson, Sr., Yuma; Brianna Denton
, Sr., Swink
; Kaitlyn Rector
, So., Simla.Class 1AHope Davies, Sr., Cripple Creek-Victor
– The senior guard is the golden nugget for the Pioneers. Despite hovering around .500 all year, Davies has been nearly unstoppable. She's averaging more than 25 points per game to go with nine rebounds and 5.1 steals. The four-game winning streak for Cripple-Creek Victor was triggered by Davies scoring 35 points and pulling down a staggering 18 rebounds. That's not a bad day by any standards. In the first game after the winter break, she scored 39 and grabbed 13 boards in a 53-51 win over Mile High Academy. The Pioneers still have some work to do when it comes to solidifying their playoff picture, but as long as Davies plays at a high level, there is always a fighting chance.Kendyl Kirkwood, So., Fleming
– The next two years are going to be a nightmare for any team that puts Fleming on its schedule. Kendyl Kirkwood has broken out in her sophomore campaign with a scoring average of 17.7 points per game to with 13.9 rebounds in each contest. She secured an early triple-double this season by scoring 19, grabbing 15 rebounds and recording 10 steals in a 65-25 win over Caliche. She also left the game with six assists to her name. She's grabbed at least 20 rebounds in a game twice already this season and continues to solidify her position as one of the elite players in 1A. Kaylee Corsentino, Sr., La Veta
– There's no denying how important Corsentino is to the success of the Redskins. Prior to the winter break, she had been held to less than 20 points just twice and she looked dominant in a 49-30 win over Antonito. She scored 32 points and grabbed 18 rebounds. And she was efficient. In that game, she shot 64 percent overall and 60 percent from behind the 3-point line. She's been shooting over 50 percent from the field all year long and when she's able to do that and dominate on the glass, La Veta is a tough team to battle with. The Redskins have a couple of important league games remaining on their schedule and they'll look to Corsentino to set the tone as the postseason inches closer.
Other contenders: Tess Hornung
, Sr., Kit Carson
; Dawson Knode
, Sr., Haxtun.