Lindenstein: Front Range League makes case for supremacy

Observers of big school basketball in this state could have seen a night like Friday coming a year ago if they’d looked at the 2011 Class 5A girls tournament bracket closely.

Six Front Range League teams made the Sweet 16 last season. Four made the quarterfinals. While just one made the Final Four — Fort Collins — the league had a pair of No. 1 seeds who got upset in the quarters.

On Friday those two squads — Monarch and Legacy, No. 1 seeds once again — put on a showcase that served notice that Colorado is no longer a one-league state in girls hoops.

The Continental League — which still this season featured semifinal losers Highlands Ranch and Regis — undoubtedly controlled the sport for more than a decade. Highlands Ranch, ThunderRidge and Regis combined for 11 titles in 12 years, with Denver East taking the other. No FRL team had won a crown since Horizon in 1993.

Friday’s title game might not unseat the Continental League as the best just yet. But it was sure a night to celebrate for all of the FRL’s 12 schools — and fans of the sport locally.

Legacy topped Monarch in a hotly-contested 58-51 thriller between rivals that was closer than the final score suggested. Stars shined on both sides. When one team made a run, the other responded.

“If we’re not the best (league) we’re pretty darn close,” said second-year Legacy coach Craig Van Patten, whose squad had lost its two regular-season matchups with Monarch this winter. “I think there’s pretty good coaches for one thing in our league. You’re coaching against (Gail Hook of Monarch). You’re coaching against Greg Hahn (Horizon). They prepare their teams well. Night in and night out you better come to play because somebody will beat you.”

Van Patten wasn’t exaggerating about the coaches. Hook, with 391 career wins and a state title at Centaurus in 1991, is as good as they come in the state.

Now Van Patten, a Legacy assistant since 2001 in just his second year as a head coach, is off to a pretty shining start to building his own storied résumé.

And his Lightning finally made their own championship mark in the town of Broomfield, the center of the 3A and 4A girls hoops universe the past few years as Broomfield High won five 4A titles in a row and Holy Family won four in 3A.

BHS and Holy Family saw their streaks end this year, but the town of Broomfield still hangs another hoops banner today. And don’t think the success of the town’s other schools didn’t weigh on the Lightning, even though LHS plays in a much deeper 5A field.

“It’s good to get one and actually have one for ourselves,” Legacy senior guard Emily Glen said.

Said Van Patten: “It’s nice to join them. … It’s just kind of nice to be in a town like that that basketball is so important and so big. We’ve had some great kids come through our school.”

Can the FRL maintain its grip atop the 5A girls basketball world? That remains to be seen. Monarch (three) and Legacy lose a combined four Division-I recruits this year to graduation. But how many local aspiring hoops stars were in the crowd of 4,741 watching and inspired?

A night like Friday had been coming for some time. And that FRL momentum likely only gained steam with its arrival.