Before the sterling start, before the keynote win, before the Katy Perry concert, even, the Lakewood
girls basketball team had implemented its foundation for success.
Sure, the 10-0 start and the notion that the Tigers finally got past rival Ralston Valley (Arvada) have been among the feel-good moments on the Class 5A circuit this season, but it didn't come out of nowhere.
While many are touting the Tigers as the surprise of the classification, some soon forget that Lakewood went 21-5 last season and advanced to the Sweet 16. While many have graduated from that squad, that's where the Tigers' transition is rooted.
"Last year's group set the tone," sixth-year coach Chris Poisson said. "They helped change our culture of hard work and commitment. Those kids worked their butts off to do what they did."
Talent has taken over this season and flourished in the system, particularly the big three of senior Jessica Brooks
and sophomores Mackenzie Forrest
and McKenna Bishop
. Last season, the Tigers went 14-2 in Jefferson County League play, but both losses were to Ralston Valley.
Ralston Valley has won the past four Jeffco titles, but a changing of the guard could be underway. On Jan. 4, Lakewood defeated Ralston Valley 64-53 after wiping out an eight-point halftime deficit.
"It was a huge hurdle," Brooks said. "It's a good one because for four years I've played them, and I had lost every single time. Honestly, I think it was in our minds where we just expected to lose. Not only ourselves, but other people expected it too.
"But this year, we were like, ‘You know what? We're going to win. We got this.' We just changed our mindset completely and I think that helped a lot."
Lakewood (10-0, 4-0) is cruising and transforming itself into a team opponents don't want to see walk into their gym. The 6-foot Brooks is having another solid season (12.6 points, 7.8 rebounds per game), but that was to be expected.
What wasn't forecasted has been the giant leap by the two sophomores. Bishop and Forrest — Big Mac and Little Mac to their teammates, a play off of their similar first names — have been spectacular.
Forrest is averaging 20.5 points a game from the point guard position, and the 5-foot-6 sparkplug already has 29- and 28-point efforts to her credit this season. The 5-10 Bishop figures to be a double-double machine in the near future and is nearly averaging one now with 10.1 points and 8.8 rebounds.
"I definitely think they play a lot older than they are and they act older than they are," Brooks said. "They really do have a big responsibility. They've had to step up from freshmen to become sophomores and take on a huge role. Varsity sports are for seniors and juniors, so essentially they had to become seniors and juniors."
The transition for Forrest and Bishop undoubtedly was aided by getting their feet wet as freshmen. Forrest averaged 7.9 points and Bishop 4.9 in non-primary roles last season.
"They're still learning the ropes, but with Jessica's leadership to lean on, they've exceeded my expectations so far," Poisson said.
"They came to us as really good athletes, and last year was huge in that they could learn to play varsity as freshmen without having to do too much — although there were times in the state tournament when McKenna Bishop might have been our best player.
"Their confidence grew as players, and this year they took the torch."
The Lakewood student body was in the news this fall when Perry, the world famous pop starlet, chose Lakewood as her spot to perform a private show on Oct. 25. Lakewood put together an intricate, spirited and, frankly, cool video to Perry's song Roar
, which featured the entire student body. Perry chose Lakewood among five finalists on the national TV show Good Morning America
"We all just freaked out and everyone was going insane," Brooks said.
You can bet the girls basketball team didn't miss out on the festivities.
"A couple of the basketball girls, we got to go onto the stage and give Katy Perry the letter jacket, so that was really cool," said Brooks, who shared the moment with the two Macs and guard Gabby Carbone
. "Definitely a great senior year so far."
The way the basketball team is going, it seems like it can only get better for Brooks and the Tigers.