All eyes in the Tri-Valley League will be centered on the City of Broomfield for a Thursday boys basketball showdown between the Holy Family Tigers and Mead Mavericks, the last two TVL teams without a loss in league play this season.
Both teams also come into the game ranked in the CHSAANow.com media polls, with Holy Family staying at No. 3 and Mead re-joining the distinguished group at No. 10.
Before facing off, both squads hit the road in other important league games Tuesday — Holy Family fended off Skyline 49-30 while Mead were clutch at Erie, 90-65. With those wins, the game of the season in the Tri-Valley League is set, and the two teams know what is at stake Thursday night in the first of two regular-season meetings.
"Holy Family is a big game," Mead's Caleb Ayers said. "They're unbeaten, we're unbeaten, and so only one team is going to remain unbeaten. It's a matter of will and work. If we execute, we'll be that unbeaten team."
Ayers has provided a lift for the Mavericks with his 3-point shooting. He entered the week with 34 shots made from behind the arc, the most by any player in the Tri-Valley League. At 41 percent shooting from 3, he has proven to be a streaky shooter that can change the game at any point.
"We always drive and kick to get the ball to open shooters," Ayers said. "(The 3-point) shot is my shot. If my teammates get me the ball, I'll shoot it."
The guards for Mead draw plenty of attention with their shooting and driving abilities, but they have another key player inside in Jax Wilke. The 6-foot-8 senior leads the team with 14 points and 7.9 rebounds per game and gives the Mavericks and true inside-out combination to attack.
"Our half court offense is wrapped around working inside and out," Wilke said. "It starts with looks inside with me, and once they start doubling me, it's kick-outs to guys like Caleb."
Nick Jacobs (13 ppg) and Will Maher (10.3 ppg) provide scoring options to work with Wilke and Ayers, making Mead one of two teams in the Tri-Valley League with four players averaging 10 or more points per game, along with the Frederick Warriors.
Holy Family has three players averaging double figures in scoring but features perhaps the most formidable scoring duo in the conference in Tanner Baird and Kyle Helbig. The two reached 1,000 career points in the same game on Jan. 10 in a 75-52 win over Erie.
"It was really cool to have two guys reach it on the same night," Helbig said. "It's a big deal. I think it's the first in school history, so it's pretty awesome."
Helbig uses his size and athleticism to work inside, especially on the offensive boards to create second-chance opportunities, but also has the ability to shoot from the outside as a stretch forward. Baird is a crafty guard who is shooting 49 percent from the field and 91 percent at the free throw line.
But like Mead, there are plenty of other weapons the Tigers have this year. Adam Jolly is third on the team in scoring and has improved from just over seven points per game to 11.8 this season. Dominic Nellis runs the point and helps facilitate the offense.
Since losing 48-46 at the buzzer to Pueblo West before winter break, the Tigers have come back strong in the new year and ride a six-game win streak, the longest of the season and second longest behind 10 straight wins for Mead.
"We know a lot about Mead and they know a lot about us," Jolly said. "We just have to come out and keep playing together and play as a team."
Thursday night, the conference picture will become clearer, and perhaps the biggest statement in the league so far will be made.
"It's a deciding week for us," Helbig said. "We have to come out, play hard, and continue to play like we have and outwork teams."
Skyline girls seeing vast improvement
Many of the teams at the top of the standings last year remain at the top this year, particularly Windsor, Holy Family and Berthoud.
Behind them, some new teams have moved up the conference ladder, most notably Skyline at 9-5 overall and 4-3 in the TVL. The nine total wins and four league wins have already matched last season.
The Falcons have embraced first-year head coach Kirk Blackard and have found a new identity to create a positive culture moving forward.
"We're better than last year," Skyline's Ashalya Powers said. "We got a new coach and he pushes us a lot. He's really been a big factor I think. We've had problems and lots of other coaches, but (Blackard) is sticking with us and keeps that energy up for us."
Powers is one of five juniors who have been thrust into a leadership role for the Falcons. So far, the junior class has proven they can handle that responsibility. Entering this week, the Falcons were the only team to have three scorers in the top 10 in the Tri-Valley League. Aly McKrola is third in the conference and leads Skyline at 15 ppg while Powers is fourth (14.7) and Lindrey Schendel seventh (10.8). All three are part of the junior class leading the team.
"Three of us juniors have been on varsity since our freshman year," Powers said. "We've grown as a team I think. This year, we're all clicking. We've got the coach we needed and we have everything right now."
While many teams lost key senior contributors going into this season, the nucleus Skyline returned gave them an opportunity to move up the standings. They are in the middle of their toughest three-game conference stretch with Holy Family, Berthoud and Windsor in consecutive games that started with a 70-41 loss to the Tigers on Tuesday.
Other league notes
• The Frederick Warriors boys are the most improved team in the conference from last season and currently sit at 7-7 with two league wins on the season. The Warriors went 1-22 and did not win a conference game all of last season. Jake Green (15.3 points per game), Joe Cartelli (13.1 ppg), Davis Richard (11.4 ppg) and Izayah Elize (10.1 ppg) lead the Warriors this year, and with 11 of 12 players on the varsity roster not listed as a senior, the team hopes to be climbing the standings more the next couple of years.
On the girls side, the Warriors have taken a slight dip, starting 4-9 and 1-6 in conference play. Seniors Tori Dufour (10.6 ppg) and Shea Chavez (10.5 ppg) lead the team in scoring so far for a second straight year, but it will take defense to get the team back on track as they have allowed 50 or more points in eight of their nine losses this season.
• Erie has shown improvement in the second season under head coach Sarah Pfeifer. The Tigers girls already surpassed their overall win total and tied the number of league wins they had last season. Younger players have stepped up to help the Tigers, most notably sophomore Anna Hefner (10.2 ppg and 6 rebounds per game) and Grace Moyers (9.5 ppg).
Scott Melin is also relying on a good number of underclassmen with the boys this season. The Tigers are playing five sophomores and one freshman in their 11-man rotation. Sophomore Kevin Loy leads the team with 15.7 ppg.
• A gauntlet of tough games in December has the Holy Family girls team battle-tested, but it's their loss to Windsor that has them sitting second in the league. Amanda Ward and Genevieve Gudino were around their scoring average with 10 points each that game, but a cold shooting night hurt the Tigers. The rematch on Feb. 9 in Broomfield will certainly be circled on the calendar and could decide if the title will be shared or won outright by Windsor.
• Gage Robertson of Skyline is the leading boys scorer in the conference at 16.2 ppg for Skyline and made them look like a dark horse threat for the Tri-Valley League title, but after losses to Mead (71-51) and Holy Family (49-30), the Falcons will have to be perfect the rest of the league season for a shot at sharing the conference title at least. Outside of those two league games, the Falcons have won by 10 points or fewer in their other five league matchups.
• Losing a good senior class from a 15-8 season sees the Mead girls relying on a number of underclassmen, especially in the backcourt, and a host of post players inside. Abbey Glynn, Riley Gilbert and Maddie Muntz anchor the Mavericks in the paint and combine for 17 points and 17 rebounds a game. So far, however, youth and inexperience has led them to a 5-9, 2-5 start.
Current boys standings
1. Holy Family (12-2, 7-0)
2. Mead (11-3, 7-0)
3. Skyline (8-6, 5-2)
4. Windsor (8-7, 5-3)
5. Frederick (7-7, 2-5)
6. Erie (6-8, 2-5)
7. Roosevelt (5-9, 2-5)
8. Berthoud (5-9, 2-5)
9. Fort Morgan (3-11, 0-7)
Current girls standings
1. Windsor (12-3, 8-0)
2. Holy Family (8-5, 6-1)
3. Berthoud (11-3, 5-2)
4. Skyline (9-5, 4-3)
5. Erie (8-6, 3-4)
6. Roosevelt (7-7, 2-5)
7. Mead (5-9, 2-5)
8. Fort Morgan (5-9, 1-6)
9. Frederick (4-10, 1-6)