BROOMFIELD -- Despite starting immediately as a freshman for one of the most consistently successful girls basketball programs in the state, and despite spending much of her athletic life competing in older age divisions on the club circuit, Courtney Smith does not believe she really found a comfort zone with the Legacy Lightning until last year's state tournament.
Smith certainly will never get an argument from anyone at Monarch.
After turning in her biggest game of the year on the biggest stage of the season last March as the Lightning claimed the Class 5A state title against Monarch, Smith and her sister, senior Caitlyn Smith, are poised for big seasons as a revamped Lightning squad attempts to defend its Class 5A state crown.
"This is kind of sad, but I don't feel like I really came into my own until the state tournament," Courtney Smith said. "The jitters of the game experience finally went away. I had realized that for our team to be successful I needed to do all I could do. It wasn't just that I believed I could do it. I knew my team believed in me too."
Stepping up against higher-level competition was nothing new to Courtney Smith. She and her older sister got into the sport around the same time when they were young children, with Courtney Smith often finding herself playing against older kids in order to remain on the same team as her sister.
The experience certainly shined through last year during the Lightning's title run. Courtney Smith averaged a respectable 6.6 points a game and 4.3 rebounds a game for the entire season, but she produced markedly improved numbers during the postseason. In Legacy's five state tournament games, Courtney Smith averaged 10 points, a burst that included a 17-point game against Highlands Ranch in the semifinals and a 10-point effort in the title game against Monarch.
In those two Final Four games, Courtney Smith went a perfect 12 for 12 from the floor.
"She came in starting from Day 1, and she came in as a freshman skilled enough to start on a state championship team," said Legacy coach Craig Van Patten, whose program has reached the 5A title game three times in the past six seasons.
"She obviously progressed throughout the year. She plays above her years. By the end of the year last year she was playing like an upper classman. She had no fear. The pressure didn't get to her. I think she's played so much basketball it just didn't get to her."
The Smith sisters are preparing to devote their final season together to keeping Legacy among the state's elite, despite the losses of such prolific seniors as Emily Glen (13.6 points a game) and current University of Denver freshman Kailey Edwards.
Caitlyn Smith, who recently signed a Letter of Intent to continue her career at the Colorado School of Mines, will team with her younger sister to form one of the most imposing front courts in Class 5A.
"We definitely want to get back to where we were last year," Caitlyn Smith said. "It was always a lot better at home when we won than if we lost. I think we both try to do a good job of pushing each other in practice so that we can have good games, like she did in the Final Four."
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