LITTLETON -- In regards to luminosity, Saturday was the shortest day of the year.
Don't tell that to the Cherokee Trail girls basketball team. Monarch made it a long day for the Cougars.
In the consolation bracket final of the Heritage Holiday Hoopla, the Coyotes visibly embittered the Cougars in a 43-36 victory that sent Monarch to the break with a winning record.
"I thought they were very frustrated, by the way they were playing and by their attitudes," Monarch reserve Francesca Cendali said. "They were definitely frustrated throughout the whole game."
Monarch (4-3) had its defense on point early, as the Cougars managed only one field goal in the first quarter, and that was a 3-pointer by Nikki Duresky with 18 seconds left.
The Cougars (3-4) had registered only one point on the scoreboard before the shot.
"Ninety percent of our practices are based around defense, because we're a short team and we're not going to get a lot of offensive takes to the basket in the post," Coyotes senior guard Ellie Dietz said. "We focus on 'D' and frustrating the other team, definitely."
Dietz led the Coyotes with 13 points and Cendali added an impressive 11 off the bench. Cendali's total included the key basket of the game.
Monarch had a seemingly comfortable 26-12 lead at half time, but Cherokee Trail quickly trimmed the deficit to three points. Immediately after the Cougars' Duresky nailed a 3-pointer to make it 28-25, Cendali went to work.
She drove into the paint from the right side, scored, was fouled and completed the old-fashioned 3-point play to retransfer the momentum to Monarch's side.
"It was big," Monarch coach Chris Lewis said. "She took it hard to the hole and got the foul. We teach our players to be aggressive towards the basket if they get the opportunity."
Monarch also got solid defensive play from starting guard Raegan Rohn, who was active in harassing the Cherokee Trail ball handlers along with Brenna Stimac. Hannah Sparks led the Cougars with 11 points.
Monarch dropped the opener of the tournament against Mesa Ridge, ranked No. 4 in 4A, and finished with wins against Montbello and the Cougars to take fifth place. The youthful Coyotes will get starting guard Jordan Eisler (injured foot) back after the break, and are hoping center Mae Williams (knee) will return for the final weeks.
"It's definitely a good way to end and go into Christmas, but there's still some things to work on," Cendali said. "We're a different team than last year."
From appearances, it's a good bet that defense will be Monarch's signature forte when the calendar flips to 2013.
"We definitely think defense will win us some games," Lewis said. "I always tell the girls that if we play hard on defense, the offense will come."
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MONARCH 43, CHEROKEE TRAIL 36
At Heritage HS
Dietz 4 5-9 13, Stimac 0 0-0 0, Rohn 2 3-4 8, Anthony 1 1-5 3, O'Flannigan 0 4-4 4, Keatley 0 0-0 0, Cendali 3 4-5 11, Mendicino 2 0-0 4, Scott 0 0-0 0. Totals 12 17-27 43.
CHEROKEE TRAIL (3-4)
Sparks 4 3-5 11, Sharp 0 5-9 5, Duresky 2 0-2 6, Horton 0 1-2 1, Hartley 2 1-2 5, Castillo 0 0-0 0, Runia 0 0-0 0, Carter 0 0-0 0, McClellan 4 0-4 8, Workman 0 0-0 0. Totals 12 10-24 36.
Score by quarters:
Monarch 9 17 8 9 -- 43
Cherokee Trail 4 8 14 10 -- 36
3-point field goals -- Monarch (2): Rohn, Cendali; Cherokee Trail (2): Duresky 2. Total fouls -- Monarch 17, Cherokee Trail 21. Fouled out -- Duresky. Technical fouls -- None.