Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer
LOUISVILLE — Little has been able to stop Monarch girls basketball this season, and the second round of the Class 5A state playoffs proved no different.
On Friday night on their own home court, the fourth-seeded Coyotes knocked off No. 36 Legacy with a 59-41 final score to continue their tear through the 5A competition and, hopefully, get them one step closer to a state title game appearance. They now sit at 23-1 on the season, their lone blemish coming against Rocky Mountain at the end of January.
Legacy, on the other hand, ended its season 12-12 after defeating No. 29 Ponderosa in the first round of the tournament with a 47-41 decision.
“The adjective I’ve used to describe (my girls) is gritty,” Legacy head coach Jody Welch said. “We’re kind of the blue-collar worker. I’ve got a lot of multi-sport athletes who step in and play basketball and it’s not their main sport but they give me everything they’ve got. It may not be pretty at times, but it’s just the hard work, the effort and they really bought into what we were trying to accomplish.”
The Coyotes squashed any plans for the Lightning to pull off an upset as junior guard Natalie Guanella led her team with 25 points. Junior forwards Caroline Walley and Arezo Safi backed up her effort with 16 and 14 points, respectively.
Monarch got off to a hot start as the Coyotes relied on their usual excellent ball movement and offensive rebounding — especially from Walley — to carry them to a 25-10 lead midway through the second quarter.
“I think (the rebounding) was huge because last time we played them, it was super close because we didn’t have a good start,” Walley said. “I think having a good start and against this team, second chances were super important because it definitely gave us an edge.”
The Lightning started to knock off the rust a bit as three ladies hit a series of quick shots, but by halftime the Coyotes still led 30-16. The Lightning offense sparked in the third quarter, especially when they forced the Coyotes into a timeout following a 10-2 run. That disrupted the Coyotes for quite a while before they were able to recover and get the job done in the end.
Legacy’s freshman shooting guard Olivia Mortensen lit up the court for the Lightning with 18 points as senior Westbrook Jensen followed her lead with 10 more.
“We weren’t working too well together the first half and then we all came together and really just played for each other,” Mortensen said. “Last game of the season. We love all the seniors and we just wanted to play as a team and finish the season off strong. I’m so proud. We did crazy good.”
The late recovery after Legacy had drawn closer, Monarch coach Mike Blakely said, was an example of what has stood out about his team in a season that was harder than anybody could have imagined going in.
“They’ve always impressed me with their resiliency. We’ve talked about that with all the stuff that’s happened to the Monarch community this year (with the Marshall Fire) and how Monarch’s able to come back,” Blakely said. “Our boys team won a playoff game, our girls team just won a playoff game and it feels like this community is able to just bounce back from things.”
Now, the Coyotes will have to turn their attention toward Front Range League counterpart and No. 13 seed Fossil Ridge, who defeated No. 20 Eaglecrest 55-40 on Friday. The Coyotes know full well that the competition will only get harder from here, but Walley believes her girls will be up to the challenge.