That playoff feeling is in the air. It has been for a while, but with each girls basketball state tournament set to conclude this weekend the quality and intensity of each game figures to increase dramatically starting Thursday.
Can St. Mary's (Colorado Springs)
repeat in Class 3A? Will Kit Carson
claim basketball titles to go with their volleyball titles from the spring? Is Air Academy
destined for perfection? Will Fran Bellibi
throw down a dunk that puts an exclamation point on a state title for Regis Jesuit (Aurora)
So many lingering questions will be answered by the time Saturday comes to an end. And the process in which those questions get answered figures to be a lot of fun. BracketsClass 5A
At Denver Coliseum
Final 4: Thursday, March 7
In some ways, a state title matchup between Highlands Ranch and Regis Jesuit feels like destiny, The two teams have been on a collision course since the Falcons beat the Raiders 65-49 on Feb. 12 during league play. The Falcons looked dominant in their quarterfinal win over Broomfield, and Regis Jesuit also cruised into the semifinals with a 68-37 win over Horizon (Thornton).
For Highlands Ranch, No. 4 Cherry Creek stands in the way of a second state title game appearance in four years. The Bruins squeaked by Fossil Ridge (Fort Collins) last Friday and they got the points they expect to get them. Jana Van Gytenbeek
scored 21 and Cali Clark
added 14. Each player found themselves in foul trouble, which made them play a little more conservative in the closing minutes of the game. The Bruins will have to weather the storm of Kasey Neubert
, Jamie Bain
and Autumn Watts
. Either of those three are capable of having a big game and getting the Falcons into Saturday's final. The Falcons have two wins over the Bruins this year and got about 50 combined points in each game from its standout trio.
The main event Thursday will feature a rematch between two-time defending champion Grandview and Regis Jesuit. The Raiders dominated the Wolves during the regular season, coming away with a 79-55 win. Tempers flared in that game and it will be intriguing to see if the two teams can control their emotions. Grandview held off Valor Christian (Highlands Ranch) to advance to the Final 4. Winners of the last two 5A titles, the hope for a three-peat is still alive for the Wolves. But the Regis Jesuit one-two punch of Avery Vansickle
and Belibi look to have other ideas. They combined for 48 points in the win against Horizon.
Regardless of who wins Friday's contests, the Denver Coliseum will be in for a treat for Saturday's state championship game. There are two Stanford commits in Van Gytenbeek and Belibi among the talented crop of players taking the court.
At Denver Coliseum
Final 4: Thursday, March 7
Air Academy needs to be perfect for just two more games. The Kadets have been the best 4A team all year and have rightfully earned a spot in the Final 4. Air Academy needs to beat No. 4 Pueblo South to advance to the state championship game. The two teams played Feb. 9, and it was the Kadets who came away with a 42-39 win. Kylee Blacksten
has been a strong post presence, averaging 14.6 points and 7.2 rebounds a game. She has solid support from her guards, especially the trio of Zoe Sims
, Liza Louthan
and Annie Louthan
The Colts are hoping to send retiring coach Shannon Lane off into the sunset with a championship. The duo of Drea Nelson
and Gabi Lucero
were around for both of South's state championship game losses to Evergreen. They got a small slice of revenge by beating Evergreen in the quarterfinals. Now Nelson and Lucero, a player of the year candidate, are hoping they can avenge their earlier loss to Air Academy and claim an elusive title.
The other semifinal game pits No. 2 Holy Family against No. 14 Mullen. The Tigers started the season 2-4, but a tough schedule played dividends come tournament time. In the first two wins of the tournament, sophomore Genevieve Gudino
averaged 17.5 points and Holy Family won handily. The Tigers beat Greeley Central 52-42 in the Great 8.
Mullen finally gets to play closer to home after spending some time on the road for their last two games. The Mustangs pulled off the upset of the tournament with a 49-45 win over No. 3 Pueblo West then went to the other side of the mountains to get a big 62-28 win over Montrose. Mullen didn't make the playoffs last year, and now the duo of Megan Pohs
and Imani Perez
has put the team in position to contend for a state title.
At Hamilton Gym, University of Denver
Great 8: Thursday, March 7
(1) St. Mary's (23-1) vs. (9) Alamosa
(17-6), 8:45 am
The 3A state tournament has been whittled down to eight teams. Top-ranked St. Mary's wasted no time in displaying its desire to repeat as champion, grabbing a couple of wins last weekend.
and Josephine Howery
scored in bunches to help the Pirates win their first two games by an average of 55 points. They'll see a gritty Alamosa team Thursday. The Mean Moose have given up just an average of 28 points per game since the start of districts. Lilly Lavier
and Slyvie Caton
lead Alamosa both offensively and on the defensive side of the ball.
No. 4 Delta might be the most overlooked team heading into the weekend. The Panthers looked strong early in the year and only slipped once, a 53-43 loss to Centauri on Dec. 15. Sara Geddes
, Erika Kuta
and Missa Webb
all average at least 15 points per game. Five Delta players average double-digit points, which makes the Panthers the most balanced team left in the bracket. They see another one-loss team in Eaton. The only loss the Reds suffered this year was to No. 3 Pagosa Springs on Dec. 21. Eaton needs a big weekend from Bailie Duncan
if it wants to bring hardware on the bus ride home.
The only two teams to stand in Pagosa Springs' way all year are St. Mary's and Colorado Springs Christian. The Tri-Peaks League powerhouses met for the state title last year and both beat the Pirates earlier in the year. Pagosa will look to get payback as both teams are potentially in the way of the Pirates' state title hopes. Pagosa looked strong in wins over Trinidad and Grand Valley last weekend. Hailey Griego
led the Pirates with 15 points in the Round 1 win over the Miners.
Colorado Springs Christian has the benefit of two of 3A's top three scorers on its roster. Megan Engesser
and Rachel Ingram
have been a powerful tandem for the Lions all season and look to get the team back to the state championship game. Like St. Mary's, the Lions looked impressive in wins over Eagle Ridge Academy (Brighton) and Manitou Springs last weekend. They'll see No. 10 Centauri to begin their weekend quest. The Falcons reached the Great 8 thanks to an upset win over The Academy.Class 2A
At Budweiser Events Center, Loveland
Great 8: Thursday, March 7
(19-3) vs. (5) Swink
(22-2), 11:45 am
Limon brings a healthy resume' to the 2A state tournament. The Badgers earned the No. 1 seed on the bracket thanks a 22-1 record. The only blemish came against Kit Carson, the top seed in the 1A tournament. Toni Lopez
scores 10.4 points per game, but her real strength might just be on the defensive side of the ball. She's averaging three steals, and the Badgers have no problem capitalizing on those turnovers. No. 8 Sanford will have its hands full in the first round, but the Indians are no slouches on the defensive side of the ball. They surrender just 26 points a game to their opponents and grab 11 steals a game as a team. The biggest asset on offense is the unselfishness of the players. Mackenzie Peteron
averages 8.1 points a game and is the team's leading scorer. Three other players average more than seven a game.
As the No. 3 seed, there is no easy path for Meeker to get to the Final 4. The Cowgirls drew No. 6 Del Norte. With Del Norte comes Kendra Parra
, the leading scorer in 2A and the second-leading scorer in all classes. Meeker will have to counter Parra's output with its three-headed attack of Julia Dinwiddie
, Victoria Lasker
and Megan Shelton
. The trio accounts for 35.1 points a game.
For either of these teams, the next round provides another tough challenge in either No. 2 Yuma or No. 7 Heritage Christian. After starting the season 0-2 Yuma has been on a tear and has looked like the favorite to win a state title. Led by Cody Robinson
and Chasey Blach
, the Indians won each of their district and regional games by an average of nearly 32 points. Heritage Christian suffered just one loss on the year. They fell to Dawson School 34-30 on Feb. 23. They rebounded with a 41-29 win against the Mustangs in a regional championship game.
After making its way through a district and regional bracket, No. 5 Swink is playing good basketball at the right time. Brianna Denton
took over in the regional championship game against Rye, scoring 18 points to help the Lions advance to the state tournament. If she continues to play at that high level, Swink is no easy out. The same can be said for No. 4 Wray. The Eagles advanced to the tournament thanks to a 43-49 overtime win against Ignacio. Taby Jones
and Abby Shay
will take that battle-tested experience into this weekend where anything can happen.Class 1A
At Massari Arena, CSU-Pueblo
Great 8: Thursday, March 7
The Kit Carson Wildcats are no strangers to state championship atmospheres. The volleyball program looked
strong in its run to the 1A title this past fall and many of those same athletes jumped right into basketball.
is fifth in 1A with an average of 18.3 points per game. She's flanked by the Isenbart sisters of Olivia Isenbart
and Reyna Isenbart,
who average 11.2 and 8.3, respectively. More so than a stat line, the Wildcats bring the experience of playing in, and winning, a state tournament. Kit Carson will open against Elbert, a team that hasn't lost since Jan. 19. Graycee Lay
and Olivia Lay
are the heart of the Bulldogs' offense, averaging 12.2 and 9.9, points, respectively.
South Baca's 49-38 regional championship win over McClave helped lock up the No. 2 seed for the Patriots. Like Kit Carson, South Baca rolls into the state tournament without a loss. Alissa Hebberd
and Delaney Eskew
have provided a consistent offensive attack. Heberd has also owned the boards, averaging 10 rebounds per game. They'll see Haxtun in the first round and have to deal with senior Dawson Knode
, who is averaging a double-double this year.
Fleming might have the biggest shot of a lower seed at making a run. The Wildcats fell to Haxtun 58-38 to open the year, but have greatly improved since then, getting two wins over Haxtun in the process. Fleming hasn't lost since Genoa/Hugo edged out a 45-43 win on Feb. 2, and sophomore Kendyl Kirkwood
is among the elite 1A scorers at 16.4 points per game. Sangre de Cristo, the No. 3 seed, hasn't suffered a loss since Jan. 26. The Thunderbirds responded to that loss by outscoring their next two opponents 132-12. Out of all their wins since Feb. 1, only two have been by fewer than 10 points.
The first-round game between No. 4 Briggsdale and No. 5 De Beque is a rematch from earlier in the season. They played in the Idalia Tournament, where the Falcons won a 35-31 nail-biter. Freshman Kylie Krise
played like seasoned veteran, scoring 16 points in that win for Briggsdale. The Dragons hope the senior combination of Faith Novess
(16.7 points per game) and Jentry Largent
(15.5) will make sure history does not repeat itself.