Girls basketball: For Shining Mountain, the fun of basketball comes in the work

Courtesy Photo/ Shining Mountain
The Shining Mountain girls basketball team heads to Sterling to play in the Class 1A Region 2 tournament with a chance to make the state tournament March 7-9.

Shining Mountain senior Amrita Shore has never questioned the amount of fun being part of the Lions girls basketball team has been.

The dedication part? Looking back on it, even now Shore readily admits the sport has been seen in the past as just another thing to do — not necessarily something to pour one’s life into.

That all has changed in the past two seasons or so, and junior Lola Conaway can attest to it.

A young group of now-sophomores and freshmen have instilled a pride in the performance of the team, and both Shore and Conaway are relishing the new life breathed into the program as two of the three upperclassmen on the team.

“It’s all about attitude and effort for us, honestly,” Conaway said before Wednesday’s practice at the school that’s tucked away in the northwest part of Boulder. “We’ve been a good team, but in the years before our attitudes maybe have struggled a little bit. We had a problem with our attitudes at the beginning of this season a little bit, and we went on a little losing streak.

“We changed it around, though. We decided this (success) was something we really wanted, and we came together. You can see it on the court and in practice. We love each other, and I know it sounds totally cliche but we are a family out there.”

“I’s say it’s just been really awesome to see the younger classmen come in and just being so dedicated to basketball,” Shore said. “Seeing these girls, so young and … avid for everyone coming to practice, it changed the way girls basketball is seen at the school.”

Shining Mountain has had success in the past — it won 13 games in back-to-back seasons (2013-14 and 2014-15) and were 52-16 in a three-season span between 2006-09 — but the program saw a mild drop-off the past three seasons being unable to reach double-digit victories.

Shore and Conaway — the latter who didn’t pick up basketball until the eighth grade — have stuck with it while some of their classmates have decided to pursue other things.

Now, as Shining Mountain prepares to travel to Sterling for their Class 1A regional tournament — a regional championship puts them in the state tournament March 7-9 — they’re enjoying putting in the work.

And, they’re enjoying a ride as a 17-5 team largely headed by young talent.

Sophomores Frances Hilliard and Olivia Jabari are the team leaders in minutes played, while freshmen Kalea Zeender and Sophia Matarrese have been exceptional secondary scorers. The rotation between Shore, Conaway, Fiona Lovejoy and Grace Wegner has proven effective.

The Lions won their 5280 League with a perfect 8-0 run, and this past weekend won their District 8 tournament at Legacy HS with a steady defensive effort allowing just 27.5 points per game in a pair of wins.

While Hilliard has averaged 20.1 points per game in February (seven games), the team bond seems to be what’s been driving the Lions on and off the court.

There aren’t any club players on the team, and head coach Mike Hawkes has only recently installed an off-season program the girls seem to be in favor of.

This team is playing for each other, with no real individual goals being placed in front of what they want to accomplish.

“I think there’s just a deeper bond here, where we’re all wanting to play with each other and for each other,” Shore said. “”

“At 5A schools and stuff, you may play on a team and never see each other in the hallways during school … here we have this ability to create such a connection,” Conaway added. “We know we have a group of girls that will continue to work with each other as soon as the season is over. The connection will last.”

Shining Mountain takes on Idalia (10-12) Friday at Northeastern Junior College (4 p.m.) and the winner will face Haxtun (17-5) in the championship game Saturday (10 a.m.).

Adam Dunivan: or