The hallway leading to the Holy Family gymnasium and the floor where the Tigers girls and boys basketball teams each have forged memorable seasons is dressed with a pair of large white posters with the Class 4A basketball brackets completely filled out to this point.
The purple marker with the names of the schools written out blares Holy Family proudly on each one. In their classification, the Tigers are the only school sending both their boys and girls squads to the semifinals at the Denver Coliseum.
"We're trying to re-create that year we both won titles," HFHS girls coach Ron Rossi said Wednesday. "Our school is real excited for the both of us, and it's just a real cool thing."
Rossi was referring to the 2013-14 slate that saw them go 26-1 and the boys ring up a 25-2 mark. That was also in Class 3A and their titles were not clinched in the Coliseum. Arguably, they both entered the tournament as favorites that season, too.
While the 4A girls semifinals feel a bit wide open, the boys semis feature undefeated stalwarts Lewis-Palmer (26-0) and Longmont (26-0). The Rangers and Trojans have been crushing opponents lately and appear on paper to be headed for a rematch. But the simple fact the underdog Trojans took it all last year paves the way for anyone to believe at this point that any team can be toppled.
For head coach Pete Villeco's squad, trying to beat the Rangers in Friday's early game (4 p.m.) is the task at hand. Senior Adam Jolly equated their opportunity to that of the home game against Mead in the last round — with the Mavericks having dealt HFHS its only two league losses in season, the Tigers came back around and put an end to Mead's season this past Saturday.
"It means a lot to be playing at the Coliseum, and this is just what we've been working for all season," Jolly said. "We've been preparing well and we know there's going to be a fun crowd. It's just getting used to being in the championship atmosphere.
"We just have to play together, and we trust in our coach to come up with a good game plan that we can focus on together."
Several of the Tigers girls have experience in a championship atmosphere having been part of the softball team title won this past fall. Rossi said it's easy to lean heavily on their poise at this point as they look forward to getting going Thursday against Mullen (4 p.m.).
"An athlete's an athlete and they have already contributed in numerous ways just relating how to handle it, how to deal with it and how to push (the championship mentality) forward," Rossi said.
As for playing Mullen in a old-school parochial battle? "Their eight losses is deceiving because they play in a 5A league, but then again I would say our five losses is a little deceiving, too," he said.
The Longmont boys enter the state semifinals sports an undefeated record for the second time in the past five seasons. A simple bit of research shows the Trojans are truly a team without a major star this year, too.
In fact, there's no 1,000-point scorer on the roster despite having six seniors. Instead they are a rare breed of balance with five players — Beck Page, Calvin Seamons, Oakley Dehning, Brady Renck and Dallas Dye — that have achieved the 500-point benchmark.
They had to upset Pueblo South a year ago in order to make the championship, and this year it's another Pueblo team — the upstart and red-hot Pueblo East — that they can't overlook. That game against the Angels is Friday at 5:30 p.m.
"The Final 4 is something you dream about playing in and then you do, and after it's over, all you want is another championship," Dehning said. "Being in the Final 4 last year gives us confidence but also expectations for this year. It's crazy to say the 26-0 defending state champs are the underdogs again but it's a role we'll always embrace.
"It's our last week playing together and we're going to do everything we can to end it with a win. These guys are my best friends. (Longmont head coach Jeff) Kloster always preaches being a close team but at this point we're all family. I love these guys and we're not done yet."