The St. Vrain Valley School District was the talk of the Class 4A state basketball tournament when the brackets came out last weekend.
Five schools from the district received a first-round bye as one of the top 16 seeds in the tournament. Niwot and Frederick also qualified for the tournament and played in the first round on Wednesday.
Leading the group of five with first-round byes is Mead, the perennial No. 1 team in Class 4A who won 22 consecutive games and the Tri-Valley League title to get the top seed.
“It means a lot to us,” Mead’s Nick Jacobs said. “That’s been something we’ve been trying to get all year. We’ve been trying to be on top and get to play our games at home throughout the playoffs. It’s a huge thing to host throughout.”
The Mavericks have one of the more explosive offenses in the state averaging 75.9 points per game and are shooting 49 percent from the field and 37 percent from behind the arc. Whether they are able to get out in transition for easy looks or if opposing teams set up their defense in the half court, they have been able to execute at a high level with strong guard play shooting from the perimeter and getting to the rim while feeding post players inside to use their height and length to score over defenders.
Mead was one of the best teams last season but was given the No. 5 seed and was forced to play at Holy Family in the Great 8 despite going 2-0 against the Tigers in the regular season. With the No. 1 seed this year, the Mavericks will enjoy the home-court advantage until the Final Four and look to take advantage of it this postseason.
“We have to work together and have each other’s backs,” Jacobs said. “We just have to focus on who we are and play our game.”
Another team who will enjoy the comforts of home up until the Final Four is Longmont, the team that has played for the state title the last two seasons. The Trojans earned the No. 3 seed in the bracket by winning the Northern League title for a fourth straight season, even though the team lost a big senior class that led the way to the championship game the last two seasons.
“To have a whole new team this year and having to get used to each other, not having played with each other before, I think a lot of people overlooked us,” Longmont’s Ryan Schneider said. “I think we’ve come a long way from where we’ve started.”
Schneider and Dallas Dye were two holdovers with playoff experience from those state championship teams and are the seniors that have led this year’s team. Both have created a solid one-two punch with Dye scoring 14 points per game and Schneider averaging 12. They have also received a boost from junior guard Devon Nowells and his 9.6 points per game, as well as center Eddie Kurjak, whose size and length has allowed him to average 13.9 points and 6.4 rebounds and makes him a big presence in the paint.
Despite making it to the championship game the last two seasons, Longmont is still playing with something to prove this year with its new roster trying to make it back to the Denver Coliseum in March.
“I think it’s about our defense all the way,” Schneider said. “Last year’s team was more skilled offensively at each position. This year’s team, we have people who can score, but I feel like defense is what will always win us games.”
The other three teams that received a bye are the Skyline Falcons, Erie Tigers and Silver Creek Raptors. Skyline is the No. 6 seed and has one of the best big men in the area in Austin Robison with his combination of scoring inside and out to lead the Falcons to a top seed. Erie was taken to a new level under head coach Gail Hook and with players like LaDorian Havard stepping up to help the returners to finish fourth in the Tri-Valley League and secure the No. 12 seed. Getting the last bye as the No. 16 seed is Silver Creek, winners of their last seven games of the season and led by a high-scoring guard in Andrew Duquette (18.7 points per game).
The Longmont corridor sees many of the top teams in the Class 4A tournament. In Class 5A, the Boulder area is represented by Fairview and Boulder each earning a first-round bye.
Fairview won the critical rivalry game with Boulder at the CU Event Center to take the Front Range League title and earn the No. 2 seed in the bracket. Greysen Carter had been the leading scorer for Fairview with 17.5 points per game and shows a versatility to score from anywhere on the court. Jalen Page can also score from anywhere and plays a big factor inside on defense with 50 blocks at the rim to go with his 13.7 points he averages on the season. The team is riding a 14-game win streak into the postseason.
Boulder turned in an impressive 19-4 season and finished second in the Front Range League standings. For their efforts, the Panthers were given the No. 8 seed in the state tournament. The Panthers use a balanced effort to win with five players averaging seven or more points per game. Caleb Wehmuller is the high man with 10.6 points per game.
First round recap
Three area schools were victorious in the first round on Wednesday and will continue their seasons on the road in the second round.
In 4A, the No. 18 seed Centaurus Warriors saw a big offensive night from leading scorer Owen Koonce get the Warriors a 79-60 win on their home court. They will travel to Lakewood to face the No. 15 seed Green Mountain Rams. Winning on the road in the first round were the No. 37 seed Holy Family Tigers, who traveled to Frisco and knocked off the No. 28 seed Summit Tigers 56-46 thanks to 35 points from Garrett Green. On Saturday, Holy Family will head to Denver to play the No. 5 seed Northfield Nighthawks. Winning on their home court in 5A were the Broomfield Eagles thanks to a big night from Ryan Collins as he helped lead the team to a 74-36 win over Brighton. Broomfield will head south to Colorado Springs and take on the No. 12 seed Pine Creek Eagles.
Niwot played a very close game with Air Academy that saw them lose 53-50 and Frederick had a comeback attempt fall short at home to Sierra 53-46 in 4A. Monarch lost a tight one on the road to Regis Jesuit 65-62 and Legacy held tough early before eventually falling to Legend 77-65 in 5A.
Second round schedule
(All games on Saturday, higher seed hosts)
No. 1 Mead vs. No. 32 Air Academy (4A): 1 p.m.
No. 2 Fairview vs. No. 31 Fountain-Fort Carson (5A): 2 p.m.
No. 3 Longmont vs. No. 35 Palisade (4A): 2 p.m.
No. 5 Northfield vs. No. 37 Holy Family (4A): 1 p.m.
No. 6 Skyline vs. No. 27 Wheat Ridge (4A): 6 p.m.
No. 8 Boulder vs. No. 25 ThunderRidge (5A): 6 p.m.
No. 12 Erie vs. No. 21 Lewis-Palmer (4A): 4 p.m.
No. 12 Pine Creek vs. No. 21 Broomfield (5A): 6 p.m.
No. 15 Green Mountain vs. 18 Centaurus (4A): 4 p.m.
No. 16 Silver Creek vs. No. 17 Thomas Jefferson (4A): 7 p.m.