While Dawson School junior Kaitlyn Day is hitting shots at a personal all-time best this 2018-19 girls basketball season — leading to her being one of the area's top scoring threats — the Mustangs and their first year head coach are pretty unanimous in what has made them a serious threat in the Class 2A/1A Mile High League.
It's all about defense.
When coach JR Sagner was named the head coach of the Mustangs before summer 2018 began, he was familiar with what kind of team he was getting. Dawson went 13-8 in 2017-18 and were returning a vast majority of the main components that led them to their first winning season since 2007-08.
In Sagner's mind, all it was going to take was a little bit more challenging summer slate and a continued presentation of defensive aggressiveness. So far, that has all played out to near perfection.
"We focused on the defensive end early, and we put a lot of time, energy and effort into that," Sagner said before a Friday afternoon practice at the school. "Just the idea, and i told my kids this, if we can compete defensively then our offense is only going to get better as the season goes. The kids have bought into that. Hold good teams to manageable scores ... and now we're at the point in the year where the offense is getting up a lot of shots."
Dawson School moved to 5-1 in the MHL this week by splitting games against Heritage Christian and Nederland. A 46-43 loss against league front-runner HCA on Tuesday dimmed the lights temporarily, but the Mustangs are taking the positives from it to their final six-game regular-season stretch and then into districts. The 46 points was one of the lowest totals of the season for the Eagles (13-0, 7-0) and the Mustangs had them within a single possession.
Dawson has allowed just 26.2 points per game in league.
"Our team overall, our defensive (play) has really helped and I feel like we're clicking on the offensive end," said Kaitlyn Day, whose sister Madison also is a stalwart on both ends of the court. "Coach has really pushed us, brought in new plays and new defenses, and he has pushed us just to connect as a team."
As for the area's third-leading scorer at 16.8 points per game, Kaitlyn Day appears to have found her inside presence. While maintaining her 3-point stature, Day is shooting 56 percent from 2-point range (60-for-108). With a year still remaining, Day is essentially a shoo-in for a 1,000-point scoring career (she's already sitting at 768 career points).
But the part where the team is in conversation for a potential playoff run is what is exciting to the guard.
"Coming into the season, I realized that I needed to be more of a double threat, driving and shooting so that when my shots aren't falling I have the ability to drive," Day said. "Even though we lost against Heritage, we were excited about our defense and we know that we can stick with top teams."
LCS Warriors holding their own
While Heritage Christian at the moment has a "commanding" lead in the MHL's 2A division, Longmont Christian (10-3, 5-2) has the luxury of playing as a 1A MHL team and gaining some valuable experience for its district tournament.
The Warriors girls get tested night in and night out, and coach Zach Echols' team has shown they are perhaps ready to take another step forward as a program. Like Dawson, the Warriors hung around with HCA in a 61-53 outcome back on Jan. 4, and LCS' only other league loss is to Dawson (a 12-point setback).
Unlike Dawson to a certain extent, offense has the Warriors in the position they are. Longmont Christian has a trio of girls — Whitney Echols (16.8 ppg), Taylor Vandenburg (13.5) and Jessica Schneider (9.2) — helping toward a 51.7-point output that is fifth in 1A.
Show us what you've got
Generally speaking, now is the time for the small school boys teams to make runs. It has certainly been unusual to see the hard work not producing positive results, as only two local teams in the 3A, 2A or 1A classifications boast a league record at .500 or better (those teams are Dawson School and Twin Peaks Charter, each 3-3 in the MHL).
That's not to say there aren't any individuals having success — TPCA senior Jose Payan, for example, is fifth in 2A at 18.3 points per game and Jefferson Academy's Elian Soto is 23rd in 3A at 17.5 a contest — but the eight boys teams in those classes are a combined 42-63 as it stands.
On the plus side, district and regional play in those lower classes provides everyone the opportunity to make some adjustments and drop some jaws with upsets.
Shining Mountain's girls have won five straight games since losing to Dawson by just three points back on Dec. 20. During the stretch the Lions have averaged 49.8 points a game offensively and have held four of those opponents under 30 points. Just a sophomore, Frances Hilliard's 12.8 point average leads the way for SMWS. ... Despite an overhaul in their starting lineup from a year ago, Lyons sits at 8-6 overall and 4-3 in the MHL after two wins this past week. First year starters Avery Joy and Jazmyn Enny are combining for 24 points a contest for the LHS Lions. ... With a head-to-head loss to Lutheran, the Prospect Ridge girls will need some help for a shot at the 3A Metro League title if the Miners win out, yet a five-game win streak that includes a Friday night win over Faith Christian definitely shows coach Sara O'Flannigan has something brewing over in Broomfield.