In the cyclical environment of high school sports in which players arrive and eventually graduate, second chances at premier achievements are rare.
The Shining Mountain girls basketball team is getting one in Season B.
One of four teams still alive when the final days of the 2019-20 season were canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Shining Mountain girls were set to play No. 1 seeded Springfield in the Class 1A Final Four. It was a heartbreaking conclusion, or lack thereof, to what could very well have been a championship campaign for the Lions.
But as bad as their luck seemed then, the silver lining for the Lions is that they graduated just one player at the end of last school year. So with the bulk of last year’s successful team back in the fold, the Lions are poised and determined to make the most of this upcoming unusual Season B and try to take another shot at the school’s first girls basketball championship.
“I think we’ll always wonder who would have won,” Lions senior Frances Hilliard said. “I hope we can get back in that same situation and make another run at it this year. I think we can. We’ve been working hard and we still have our same core group of girls. So, I think we’ll have a good shot at it.”
In 2019-20, the Lions posted a 19-5 record. They did lose their leading scorer, Lola Conaway, to graduation. But the return of important players like Hilliard, who averaged 11.1 points per game, Olivia Jabari and Kalea Zeender, who scored 10.2 points a night last winter, has the Lions feeling very optimistic that they should be just as good, if not better, than last year’s squad.
Springfield, for example, was the No. 1 seed in last season’s playoffs and graduated its top three scorers. South Baca, last year’s No. 3 seed, graduated three of its top four. Cotopaxi, the No. 7 seed in 2019-20, lost two of its top four. So at least among last season’s semifinalists, Shining Mountain has more firepower returning than anyone else.
“I think it’s going really well so far,” Jabari said. “We’re all super excited. We do have a lot of returning players and we have just been working with the new players to build as strong a team as we had last year.”
A smaller team that likes to play defense and push the pace in transition, learning to play while wearing restrictive masks and adjusting to new restrictions imposed by the global pandemic have perhaps been a bigger challenge than anything to do with their roster or building chemistry. Getting going with a bit of a head start has allowed the Lions to realistically turn their focus to winning the 5280 League, which Flatirons Academy won last season, and competing for a state championship.
So while they’ll always wonder what could have been when they look back on the 2019-20 season, the Lions at least can find some comfort and excitement knowing they won’t likely have to look back on it as their one and only opportunity at greatness.
“Practicing in masks and having to take breaks and go outside, things like that, has been strange,” Jabari said. “But we’re mostly just happy that we’re getting to play because we know we have a good team and we’re capable of doing big things.”
Bringing it home: recent state champions
2020 — No champions crowned (state tournaments canceled because of COVID-19).
2019 — Cherry Creek (5A), Mullen (4A), St. Mary’s (3A), Yuma (2A), Kit Carson (1A).
2018 — Grandview (5A), Evergreen (4A), St. Mary’s (3A), Yuma (2A), Kit Carson (1A).
2017 — Grandview (5A), Evergreen (4A), Lamar (3A), Paonia (2A), Kit Carson (1A).
2016 — ThunderRidge (5A), Valor Christian (4A), Lutheran (3A), Yuma (2A), Idalia (1A).
2015 — Broomfield (5A), Valor Christian (4A), Pagosa Springs (3A), Akron (2A), Idalia (1A).
2014 — Regis Jesuit (5A), Mesa Ridge (4A), Holy Family (3A), Lutheran (2A), Norwood (1A).
2013 — Regis Jesuit (5A), Pueblo South (4A), Holy Family (3A), Akron (2A), Wiley (1A).