Imagine this: at one point prior to the 2006-07 girls basketball season, Broomfield head coach Mike Croell did an honest self-reflection and thought perhaps he wasn’t the right person to lead the Eagles to the promised land.
Two state championship game losses to Mullen in the early 2000s, and frequent appearances in the semifinals of the girls basketball tournaments since his arrival at BHS in 1995, made every season’s end that much harder.
The talent was always there, he thought, and it would be again that coming season. But Croell also temporarily envisioned someone else getting the team over the hump. It’s a good thing for Broomfield that he didn’t listen to his inner voices.
To this day, there’s never been a run in Colorado hoops quite like what Croell’s squads had from 2007 to 2011. Not one other program but Broomfield can say they won five straight girls hoops titles, and that unprecedented span still feeds the BHS legacy now that it is in Class 5A. A sixth title in 2015, its first in 5A, rounded out Croell’s standing as one of the state’s elite leaders.
But it’s always been about the talent and the team aspect for Broomfield.
“There’s a lot of things the need to happen to be able to get where we have been … and there are times where you think, did that really happen?” Croell said. “But we’ve always been able to reload, which is a testament to the town and the youth programs, what have you.
“It was amazing how those girls handled all the pressure.”
You want a rundown of talent? The number of college-bound players to come out of Broomfield would make this story a novel. To summarize, though, an Eagles team three-deep with players that went on to the next level was typical and in some years the starting five were signed to play around the nation.
A common thread among these teams, too, is multi-sport athletes who bought into their role. Caitlan Stem was a CSU softball player, Taylor Gilmore and Linnie Malkin also went on to play Division I softball. Maddie Kern played golf in college. The list goes on.
And that leads us to the hustle and flow of Eagles hoops. A staple of the team has been to raise hell on both ends of the court for the first 16 minutes of play, get a big lead and then work on some of the finer points of the game while still trying to be as aggressive defensively the 32nd minute as they were at the tip.
“You’d always see the points spread out across the board, but that person who might have been struggling on offense one night was always there to pick it up on the defensive side,” said Bre Burgesser, one of the lucky few Eagles who contributed to four championship seasons. “We played each other in practices like they were games. With so many girls going to play at the college level, there were times we had more competition in practice than in (regular season) on the court.”
“The one thing that made our teams so special was it wasn’t just about one player, and I think Croell and his staff emphasized team basketball,” added Anna Prins, who played at Iowa State and still smiles when thinking about her final prep game, a 49-47 victory over Mullen that was her third title. “One night, Chaundra (Sewell) was doing really well, or another night it could have been me, or Alex Beigner, Sophia Rhodes. Teams would try to stop one of us, and three others would step up. The importance of being a team player and understanding when it was someone else’s night, that unselfish basketball was big.”
The 2006-07 team, which took a stunning loss in the quarterfinals the year before, had few tests prior to playoff time, notably from Silver Creek. A 61-43 blowout of Harrison, with Stem scoring 23 points, was an appropriate ending to a dominant 27-1 season.
Northern League rivals Longmont and Silver Creek would turn into championship victims of Broomfield in three of the ensuing four title-winning seasons. The Raptors handed BHS its only loss in 2007-08, but Broomfield got revenge in the final by a 50-34 count; BHS then beat the Trojans in both 2010 and 2011 — each finale a true fight to the finish.
“It was a winning mindset that Broomfield and Croell instilled in us from the first time we stepped on the floor, so everyone had that goal of being in the last game of the season,” Burgesser said. “Year after year after year, after we won, even in that locker room after the game it was, let’s get ready for next season. It was an awesome group of girls.”
The ‘reload’ mentality of the program came into full view as Croell was recently watching some of those championship game recordings on DVD.
“When they panned into the crowd and showed the Broomfield faithful, It was amazing how many future players you would see in the crowd,” Croell said. “I sat there and said, oh, that’s so-and-so … and lo and behold, they grew up and ended up playing for Broomfield. That’s kind of what the culture is all about.”
And those groups of young women would also go on to make their mark on the program too. In 2013-14, the Eagles went undefeated all the way up to the title game before falling to Kylee Shook-led Mesa Ridge (Shook’s in the WNBA now). Then, in 2015, Broomfield rudely introduced itself to the 5A Front Range League by running the table at 12-0 and winning its first four playoff games by 27.5 points per.
Facing powerhouse ThunderRidge in the title game put the Eagles in another tough position, especially since the Grizzlies had taken the Eagles out in two regular-season tournament championships. But in true ‘third-time’s-a-charm’ fashion, Callie Kaiser’s clutch free-throw shooting and a double-digit scoring game from freshman Delaynie Byrne delivered title No. 6, 47-42.
“I was ready to cash it in before that first state championship, just all the times we had come so close and not gotten it done,” Croell said. “But that (2007) team won, and away we went. It’ll be awful tough to beat that run.”
Details of the Dynasty: Broomfield girls basketball
Coach: Mike Croell
Dynasty years: While Croell’s legacy includes deep playoff runs to the quarterfinals in all but one of his coaching seasons at BHS, the run of six titles between 2007 and 2015 is dynasty worthy. The Eagles are the only girls basketball team in the state to have ever won five straight titles (2007-11) and they finished with one loss or fewer in five of those nine seasons. In 2015, they won the Class 5A state championship in their first year at the highest classification.
Major Players: Among many, Alex Beigner (2006-09); Bre Burgesser (2008-11); Autumn Chase (2007-10); Brenna Chase (2013-16); Brenna Fankell (2013-16); Callie Kaiser (2012-15); Nicole Lehrer (2012-15); Tyana Medema (2008-11); Katie Nehf (2008-11); Anna Prins (2006-09); Sophia Rhodes (2006-09); Chaundra Sewell (2006-09); Caitlan Stem (2004-07).
Most dominant moment: The 2008-09 team went 28-0, averaged winning games by 43 points every night out and captured a third straight title in 4A with a 49-47 win over Mullen in the championship game at Boulder’s Coors Events Center. The Eagles finished in ESPN’s Fab 50 girls programs nationwide that season, deservingly so after a four-year record of 106-4.