Girls basketball: Monarch disrupts top-10 team with 22-point win

Monarch junior Natalie Guanella tries to work the ball around Ralston Valley's Elyssa Cardella on Tuesday night at Monarch High School.
Monarch junior Natalie Guanella tries to work the ball around Ralston Valley’s Elyssa Cardella on Tuesday night at Monarch High School.

LOUISVILLE — There’s a special magic about a team’s first home game of the season. It certainly doesn’t hurt when it’s a top-10 matchup between two high-quality girls basketball teams.

Still, No. 5 Monarch made a banner Class 5A game look like child’s play en route to a 61-39 victory over visiting No. 8 Ralston Valley. The Coyotes had postponed two games they were supposed to play last week after the Marshall Fire wreaked devastation on their community.

“In terms of the Marshall Fire and community, I thought we had great support,” head coach Mike Blakely said. “It’s been a tough couple of weeks in this community and so to play a game that meant that much and to just get a chance to play, I think, was really meaningful.”

Four weeks passed in between games for Monarch, but it didn’t seem to faze the Coyotes much.

Junior forwards Arezo Safi and Amelia Rosin led the Yotes with 17 points apiece as junior point guard Natalie Guanella added another 11. Rosin took care of the paint as Safi split her time between the low post and outside of the 3-point line.

That performance provided a stark contrast to Monarch’s month-long hiatus last season when a COVID-19 exposure knocked it out of the competition in the weeks leading up to the state tournament. The Coyotes lost their first-round game by four points.

This time around, after a long winter break and postponements, they were ready.

Alissa Noe/
Monarch’s Jiovana Debaise tries to defend against Ralston Valley’s Sophia Sabus on Tuesday night at Monarch High School.

“It feels so good because I know that last year, we came off,” Rosin said. “We had COVID for a while so the first playoff game, we had two weeks off and we didn’t play very good that game. Coming back after like a month off and playing a really good game was really amazing.”

The Coyotes and Mustangs kept the contest fairly close in the beginning as Monarch consistently found ways to get the ball to the post and Ralston Valley responded with three after three.

The Coyotes built up as much as a 16-point lead with six minutes left in the first half when the score read 27-11 in their favor, but the Mustangs weren’t going to let them get away with a win that easily.

Ralston Valley spent the rest of the second quarter completely erasing that deficit as they kept the Coyotes away from the basket. By halftime, Monarch only led by one point with a 27-26 score. Ralston Valley took the lead for a good chunk of the third quarter.

By the end of that frame, however, the Coyotes had taken back control. Safi put the exclamation point on Monarch’s charge toward victory when she opened the fourth frame with a smooth, long-range bucket from the top of the key.

That shot was huge.

“It was a game of runs,” Blakely said. “We went on a little run and we knew we couldn’t get too over-confident because we knew they’d come back and go back and forth. I think (that shot) was us initiating the next run and whoever got that next run was probably going to win.”

Over the next three minutes, the Coyotes disrupted the Mustangs on both ends of the floor as they scored 12 unanswered points to put them out of reach once again with a 54-36 lead.

It only got worse for Ralston Valley after that.

With a statement win under their belts for their first game of 2022, the 9-0 Coyotes will now have to turn their attention toward a road contest at Horizon on Friday night. Horizon should be worried.

“We have so much talent on this team and it’s not just, ‘Me, me, me.’ We just play together really well. Everyone has their own things that they’re really good at,” Rosin said. “That definitely gives us a lot of confidence and it keeps our record (perfect), which I’m definitely rooting for. We just can’t get in our heads and we’ve got to come at it every game and play with the same intensity.”