Brad Cochi / Staff Photographer
Brad Cochi / Staff Photographer
What Fairview’s Denali Pinto lacks in height, she makes up for in length.
Ever since she was a freshman for Rod Beauchamp’s Knights, there was something about her ability to utilize her wingspan on both ends of the floor that was captivating.
Her basketball IQ was off the charts back then, but over the course of a career that spanned 103 games — yes, 103 games as a varsity player — Pinto learned to go from being a menace to simply becoming a well-rounded combo guard who played bigger than she is.
It culminated this year in career bests across the board individually and helped pave the way for a smaller FHS team to finish second in the Front Range League and make another Class 5A Sweet 16 appearance.
For her ability to hit tough shots while also being able to work for easier ones, for threading passes and helping make teammates better, and for showing the consistency in leadership that every coach desires, Pinto has been named the 2017-18 BoCoPreps.com girls basketball player of the year.
“I was really glad to just have improved as a player all four years, and I’ve continued to work hard throughout and glad that it showed on the court,” Pinto said this week, prior to heading off to Florida for a spring break trip. “It was just a really fun season. I’ve been playing sports with pretty much all the girls on the team for a really long time, even in softball and soccer, so it was really fun to have one final season with all of them.
“We were really disappointed with not making it farther in the state tournament, but we were all really proud with a lot of accomplishments this season.”
The Knights have been fortunate to field one of the best duos at guard in the state the past four years, with Pinto teaming up so often with Ashley Panem for highlight-reel plays. The pair have often been connected at the hip when talking about the success of FHS basketball.
Pinto would be the first to tell you that Panem made her better, and vise-versa. However, this season in particular was one in which Pinto showed she could be a standout player on any team and will continue to be one as she heads off to play for the Colorado School of Mines next winter.
Her season started with a 28-point, 11-rebound effort against Pine Creek (whom Fairview would see later in the playoffs) and she never let up. She scored at least 20 points in 10 games, hit between 15 and 19 points six other ocassions and finished with an area-leading 18.5 scoring average while shooting 45 percent from the floor.
The scoring numbers weren’t the only ones to increase, though. Pinto also averaged 7.1 rebounds, three assists and 1.6 blocked shots a contest — all representing career highs. For this, she was named Front Range League player of the year as well as earning a spot on the CHSAANow.com all-state second team.
She was selected to play in the Colorado Coaches of Girls Sports all-star game as well as The Show, further cementing her status as an elite player.
“I really tried to practice hard on better shot selection and also driving strong to the rim and just trying to increase percentages on the offensive end,” Pinto said. “Definitely, limiting turnovers was a focus that I had this season.
“Defensively, just trying to use my long arms to my advantage on blocks on stuff was one thing I wanted to focus on.”
While games like the one against Fossil Ridge stood out — Fairview nabbed an impressive 61-57 win in which Pinto notched 32 points, eight rebounds and three blocks — the senior acknowledged part of what made the season special was watching the younger players come together and being a direct influence in that growth.
Beauchamp has said that Pinto has been a vocal leader ever since her first few appearances, and Pinto echoed that sentiment by saying it’s always been in her character to guide whenever she felt she could.
The Knights have been better over the past four years because of it.
“I always tried to be a leader both vocally and by example, and I just enjoy having that role,” Pinto said. “It was fun being a senior this year and just seeing younger players on the team and helping them with their roles.”