Girls basketball: Broomfield relishing return to Coors Events Center

CLIFF GRASSMICK
Broomfield guard Bri Wilber, right, shoots over Mullen’s Amanda Diaz during a Sweet 16 victory two weeks ago.

BROOMFIELD — Similar to all long-time state venues, the Coors Event Center has earned a special place in basketball player’s hearts. This is certainly true for Broomfield’s Bri Wilber.

The junior point guard’s history with the arena dates back to her first season playing high school basketball. As a freshman at the venue, she demonstrated the clutch play that would become her trademark, providing the decisive points in her team’s last state championship.

Creating the offense to put the Eagles in the record books with an unparalleled five consecutive Class 4A titles was an emotional introduction for Wilber to the Coors Event Center. And it is an opportunity she has been dying to repeat since the end of the 2011 season.

“I can’t even wait to play on that court again, it was the best experience ever,” Wilber said.

Wilber’s wait comes to an end at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, with Broomfield’s first Final Four appearance after a one-year absence following the 2011 title. But when the Eagles (25-1) face off against Pueblo South (24-2), making shots and steals at the arena will be a new experience for most of the team.

Wilber is in a distinct minority when it comes to playing at the Coors Event Center. Senior Katie Croell and junior Stacie Hull are the only other players who suited up the last time the Eagles made the semifinals. But just because some of the Eagles are wet behind the ears when it comes to this end of the brackets does not mean they don’t understand the weight of the impending games.

Many on Broomfield’s roster, were front and center for the Broomfield titles, cheering from the stands. Now that it is their shot at glory, they are not going to let it slip away.

“Watching them win championships and seeing how happy they were, its something I’ve always dreamed of,” sophomore Nicole Lehrer said. “Now that I’m this close to it there is no way I’m not letting it happen.”

The Eagles’ enthusiasm to regain their place at the top of 4A has been palpable to Mike Croell all season. The coach believes it played a big role in his team coming through the regular season with just one loss and running undefeated to a Northern League title.

“This is just a good group of girls,” Croell said. “They play well together, get a long well and its been a great year.”

The Eagles even gave off a good vibe to their coach in arguably the tensest outing of the season. In 2012, Broomfield was eliminated from the tournament by eventual state champion Air Academy in the quarterfinals. On Saturday, the team rose to the occasion against scrappy Montrose (20-5) in the quarters.

“Last year we lost for all the wrong reasons,” Croell said. “The night before the Great Eight Brittney Zec blew out her knee. Something like that screws up the psyche of your team. They played well against Air Academy, but in the back of your mind you always knew something was not quite right.”

The Eagles themselves were more confident heading into that round this year, but admitted last season’s stumble hung over the game.

“I think it was the biggest win of our season, given we got eliminated there last year,” Wilber said. “I’m glad we got that game out of the way, it gave us more confidence.”

Even with some tense moments behind them and the Eagles’ youth proving themselves old hats at the tournament, the team has no illusions about what lies ahead. As Croell points out, the semifinals will be his team’s toughest game of the year and, if the Eagles make it, the championship even tougher.

However, with everything coming together Broomfield’s players believe they can make this trip to the Coors Event Center as special as all the team’s others.

“Broomfield is known for its great girls basketball,” Lehrer said. “And we’re going to keep that tradition going.”

Follow Elwood on Twitter @ElwoodKShelton.