LAFAYETTE -- It's been 13 years since the Alexander Dawson girls basketball team last made it to the 32-team regional round of the Class 2A state tournament.
It's unfamiliar. It's a daunting task facing undefeated Akron (22-0) in the first round. But it's also exciting.
The Dawson Mustangs square off against Akron at 4:30 p.m. Friday at Northeastern Junior College in Sterling. The winner plays in the Sweet 16 on Saturday against the Limon-Hotchkiss winner for a state quarterfinals berth.
"Honestly, I think my kids are excited. I don't think they feel a lot of pressure," Mustangs head coach Jessica Mitchell said. "If anything, I think they feel like the underdogs and they like that. There's no pressure and nothing to be scared of. They know they're making history since we haven't been in such a long time and they're excited about going down there and playing their best."
Starting the season with 10 players and now playing with seven, the Mustangs didn't have an easy road to the postseason. They narrowly escaped with a victory over Union Colony at the district tournament, winning 40-38 to take fifth place with only four players at the end of the game.
But this year's team, which includes only two seniors, is looking forward to the school's first playoff opportunity in recent memory. That and what this year's postseason appearance could mean for next year's potential.
"It's an amazing feeling," Mustangs junior point guard Rachel Clair said after the district tournament. "Because we haven't been there for so long, Dawson is not known for its sports. To be a part of the beginning of that change and be building for the future is great."
The Dawson girls like to play an up-tempo style but they may have to rein it in a bit when they're against the Rams, who also like to play an up-and-down game. The Rams are averaging 72.2 points per game this season and feature three players averaging 12 or more points each.
Mitchell said the Mustangs must limit the Rams' penetration, transition offense and offensive rebounds. Defensively, Mitchell said she's not too worried about the Rams' press since it's the same pressing defense the Mustangs run and they're used to it.
"We've seen some film on them and one of the biggest things we need to make sure we do is try to contain their offensive penetration," Mitchell said. "They have some girls who really like to drive to the basket and can get to the free-throw line. With seven players on the roster at this point in the season, we need to make sure we stay out of foul trouble."
Battling adversity and injury since the start, Mitchell said she's learned more about coaching and ways to be creative this season than she's ever had to consider in the past.
When her first postseason game as Mustangs coach begins, she'll get plenty of chances to use all of the knowledge she's gained.
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