Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer
DENVER — Mead girls basketball’s unprecedented run to the Class 4A state tournament Final Four started long before the Mavericks stepped onto the court at the Denver Coliseum on Thursday night.
Even though the fifth-seeded Mavericks fell in a 64-55 final to top-seeded Windsor, they took pride in being the first Mead girls team to make it to that venue and to the semifinals. Head coach JR Sagner guided his girls through the highs and the lows and, over the past 10 days, they returned the favor.
Sagner’s father, George, passed away on the morning of March 1. The Mavericks were scheduled to play Thompson Valley for the Sweet 16 that same night, so athletic director Chad Eisentrager offered to cancel the game. Sagner wasn’t about to let that happen.
Instead, his girls stepped up for him when he needed them most, much like he had always been there for them, on and off the court, for the last three years. From there on out, the Mavericks played for a higher purpose.
“That day we played Thompson Valley, I was completely checked out as a coach,” he recalled. “I did not help them at all and it showed a little bit early on. And then you could just see the switch. It was like, they’re not going to lose. We’re not going to lose. We had a really good run in January, then we were kind of in a slump. We went into Northfield and then Thompson Valley again and we kind of started to peak again.”
The Mavericks defeated the Eagles 60-43 that night before knocking out Severance by a similarly large margin in the Great 8. The whole time, the ladies wore Sagner’s heart on their sleeves.
“Honestly, every game has been for him,” junior guard Charlotte Brennan said. “We have wristbands and pieces of tape on us for him. We have his name written down on them and we play for him. Since then, he told us that he needed us more than we needed him, and although I don’t believe that to be true, I feel like he was a really, really, incredibly important part to us and he just made this happen for us.”
Thursday night, however, they just couldn’t overcome a Wizards team that had beat them twice prior this season. But, they certainly made it interesting. In the end, they gave undefeated Windsor its tightest margin of victory of the season.
Brennan led the Mavericks with 18 points as senior guards Maddox Boston and Kyra Haan added 12 and 13 more points, respectively. Mead finished the night shooting 44.7% (17-for-38) from the field.
The Wizards (26-0) took control early as they built up a 21-8 lead through the end of the first quarter, before the Mavericks started to figure their zone defense. Mead spent much of the second quarter consistently cutting through the Windsor defense and driving to the basket, as an opening 9-0 tangent pulled them closer and closer to the Wizards.
They tied the game up at 26-26 with 1:09 left in the half before Windsor took a 31-29 lead at the half.
The Mavericks shot just 37.5% (3-for-8) in the first quarter to Windsor’s 56.3% (9-for-16), but altered those statistics dramatically by halftime as Mead put up 60% shooting (9-for-15) to Windsor’s 48.1% (13-for-27) by the midway point.
“I honestly think the first quarter was really just nerves,” Brennan said. “We had to shake that off and just get through it and just do our thing. I think our defense really opened (the second quarter) up for us because it all starts for us on defense anyways. It just spread from there. We got our defense going, got our boxing out going and everything just flowed.”
The Wizards continued to hold a slight advantage throughout the second half as they kept the Mavericks at arm’s length, but not comfortably. Mead kept up the pressure throughout much of the last 16 minutes of play, even pulling within four with 3:47 left, before their late-game strategic fouling sent a strong free throw shooting team to the line over and over again.
Windsor didn’t squander those opportunities.
The Wizards may have ended Mead’s incredible run, but the Mavericks can hold their heads high knowing that there has never been a Mead girls team like them before. Everything they have worked toward, everything they’ve built since Sagner first put on an orange tie will only make them stronger — and more dangerous — for years to come.
Boston is excited to see what this team can do, now that they’ve gotten a taste of what it’s like to compete on Colorado basketball’s biggest stage.
“This was the most fun season I have had in all four of my years at Mead,” Boston said. “Our goal was to make it to the Final Four and to accomplish that with the most amazing teammates by my side was so much fun.
“JR came my sophomore year and from that moment on, Mead basketball was changed for the better. He did an amazing job getting us to buy into what he wanted and getting us to come together as a unit. He’s just an amazing coach.”