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Girls basketball: Air Academy hopes to ride ‘winds of change’

BOULDER — Bob Wingett paused for a moment to summon the name of the correct cartoon.

“I have three daughters,” the Air Academy girls basketball coach said as his team celebrated its Class 4A semifinal win over Pueblo West on Wednesday night. “In the Lion King, they talk about the winds of change. Last year we had four southern teams in the Great Eight, two southern teams in the Final Four. This year we had three southern teams in the Final Four.”

And now Air Academy is in the championship game, giving the southern Colorado cities of Colorado Springs and Pueblo representation that has been fleeting in Class 4A girls hoops in recent years.

The Kadets (25-2) face D’Evelyn (23-3) at 6 p.m. Friday at the Coors Events Center.

Not since Harrison fell to Broomfield in 2007 has a southern Colorado girls team reached the 4A title game. And Harrison is the only team to do so since at least 2003, the earliest year for which the Colorado High School Activities Association has past brackets posted online.

Before Mesa Ridge and Air Academy both reached the Final Four last year, only three southern schools have gone to the semis since 2003.

But Wingett believes those winds of change are blowing in.

“There’s a lot of opportunities for young girls to play basketball in the Springs and in Pueblo that didn’t used to be there,” the coach said.

It wasn’t only Broomfield — winner of the last five state titles — dominating from the north in recent years. Three times the Eagles beat fellow Northern League teams in the championship game. Another time it was Denver’s Mullen. Teams like Greeley West and Sterling also made splashes over that span.

Southern Colorado didn’t completely dominate this week despite boasting three semifinalists.

D’Evelyn handed Pueblo South its first loss of the season in Wednesday’s quarterfinals. The Jaguars hit seven 3-pointers in the second half to rally for the win, and they come into the title game with a bit of a chip on their shoulders as perhaps the most overlooked of the No. 1 seeds in the tournament this year.

Like Air Academy, the Jaguars are searching for their first title. In fact DHS had never advanced past the second round of the playoffs prior to this season.

“We’ve talked about (being overlooked),” D’Evelyn coach Chris Olson said. “We’ve read some things when they get posted on some of these blogs and stuff. … But what’s great about our kids is they just stuck with it.”

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