In a season that generally brings good tidings and family gatherings, northern Colorado saw its fair share of surprises, from unseasonably wet weather to an Aaron Gordon dunk for the ages.
To keep with the spirit of the holiday, a few local girls basketball teams made it rain in their own way. These unconventional families, on and off the court, were the gifts that kept on giving in December.
Let’s take a look at some of the most impressive performances from 2022 as the new year gets underway.
No. 2 Monarch (6-1)
When experience meets pure talent, second-ranked Monarch is a dangerous force. Cherry Creek, which at the time was No. 1 in Class 6A, learned that the hard way when it traveled to the Coyotes’ gym and lost by a 10-point margin and a 47-37 score.
Through the first month of their season, the Coyotes have consistently impressed, staying undefeated up until their most recent matchup at Regis Jesuit. They now hold a 6-1 record.
“We have a lot of the same pieces in place that we had last year,” head coach Mike Blakely said. “We start four seniors and a junior who all started at least half of our games last year. One of the big differences is all the varsity game experience all of those kids now have. They have seen a lot of game situations and play really well together. … I think Regis helped remind us how good the teams we play are. There is a lot of good basketball in Colorado and Regis is definitely one of those teams that can beat anyone on any given night.”
Monarch, of course, has proven itself to be one of those teams too. The Coyotes tore through their 5A schedule last season and, up until an ill-fated late-January contest that saw Amelia “Millie” Rosin go down with an ankle injury, nobody could defeat them.
Rosin ended up missing the rest of the season, leading to an earlier-than-expected exit in the Sweet 16 for the 23-2 Coyotes. They returned all of their most vital pieces from that 2021-22 squad and, in retrospect, Rosin’s injury helped other ladies earn valuable varsity experience to prepare them for this year — Rosin included.
“Having Amelia back has been great,” Blakely said. “Not only is she really good in the post, she is an above average ball handler and passer and our best shot blocker. She really makes us better all over the court. One of the pleasant surprises that has come along with her return has been the continued accomplishments of Caroline Walley. Caroline continues to rebound at a very high rate, even with Amelia back. I think Millie, Caroline and Arezo Safi might be the best rebounding trio in the state.”
To date, the senior trio of Safi, Walley and Rosin are each averaging eight rebounds or more as Rosin adds 10 points a game. Senior point guard Natalie Guanella, naturally, has taken the lead in the scoring initiative with 16 points per game.
The Coyotes return to action against 5A’s ninth-ranked Windsor next Wednesday.
Broomfield entered the season much improved after finishing last year with an 8-16 record. Just a few weeks into their 2022-23 slate, the Eagles are soaring much higher and clawing out opponent after opponent, save for 4A’s top-ranked Holy Family and 6A’s Rangeview. Their 5-2 record is earning them some solid recognition, as they sat just outside of CHSAANow.com’s top 10 at No. 11 in the Dec. 19 poll.
They can thank club ball for that.
“The biggest difference is that we had a lot of the girls playing basketball this past summer,” head coach Mike Croell said. “In addition to the usual two team camps that we do, we had a lot of them playing in our club this summer.”
Their guards, senior Sophie Christopher and sophomore Olivia Kim, have been the brightest spots on a team that’s already beaming.
Kim stepped out of the freshman shadows to serve as a key playmaker for the Eagles during her second year, netting double digits in three games with a career-high 22 in the Rangeview game. Christopher, likewise, leveled up from averaging 8.7 ppg as a junior to 12.3 as a senior, now that she’s put up double-digit performances in all but two contests this year.
The Eagles don’t have any one strong rebounder, but tend to crash the glass on a more collective scale as everyone has contributed one way or another. Croell hopes his ladies, given their success so far, can rise toward the top of a tough 6A league once conference play rolls around.
“Our expectations are to finish in the upper half of our league,” he said. “This league has developed into a very solid league in the past two years and we took a step backwards last year, so we want to right the ship and get back to the top.”
The Eagles will begin 2023 with a visit to Greeley Central on Tuesday.
No. 2 Mead (8-1)
No Maddox Boston? No problem.
A year after losing its top scorer and riding a 21-6 record all the way to the 4A final four, Mead hasn’t missed a beat. The coaching change, from JR Sagner to Mike Ward, didn’t seem to make much of a difference either.
Nine games into the new season, the Mavericks have trampled all but one opponent they’ve faced, and that lone setback came at the hands of Fruita Monument by — get this — one point. The guard patrol — seniors Kyra Haan, Charlotte Brennan, and sophomores Brooklynn Charlo and Darby Haley — has been instrumental in the team’s dominance so far this season. Those four have helped the Mavericks transition away from their main strength last year.
“I would say the biggest difference between this year and last year is we are more balanced when it comes to the type of shots we’re taking,” Ward said. “We are not settling or relying heavily on the 3-point shot. Throughout the first few games, it has been evident because teams want to run us off the 3-point line, and we have done a great job of getting downhill and getting to the basket.”
Haan has led the Mavericks with 12.7 ppg and 6.3 rebounds per game this season and Charlo (10.5 ppg), Haley (10.2 ppg) and Brennan (9.8 ppg) haven’t been too far behind in offensive production.
For now, the Mavericks are taking it one game at a time, and they look forward to hitting the hardwood again when they face off with 5-3 Longmont at home next Friday.
No. 3 Centaurus (7-0)
It’s not often a player like Laura Gensert comes through the region.
The shooting guard entered her senior season with a monster junior performance already under her belt, and she hasn’t missed a beat since. In just seven games, she’s netted 113 points through 123 minutes of court time and sits just 34 points away from hitting the 1,000-point mark.
“I tell her all the time, ‘We go when you go,’” head coach Chris Mischke said. “It has been this way her whole career at Centaurus. She is our one kid who wants the ball in her hands during crunch time. When she shoots well, her whole game comes together and we are a really good team, as it opens up everyone else for opportunities to make plays.”
Her undeniable court presence, along with the 10.8 ppg and 5.5 rpg that senior Alexa Lorton has contributed, has led to a flawless December performance from the 7-0 Warriors, thus earning them the No. 3 ranking in a tough 5A classification.
After opening their season with a 47-41 overtime victory over Erie, the only other close game the Warriors have weathered was a 60-57 win over Denver South. The team’s collective effort on the boards certainly hasn’t hurt its chances, as each player helps in some way to give her teammates additional chances to score.
Mischke hopes the momentum his ladies have built up so far will help propel them through a tough Northern League. For now, they’ll look at taking down Greeley West next Friday.
“If we stay healthy, we will have a chance for a deep run,” he said. “We have to improve in a few areas but if we get the right matchups at state — where we play a team that is bothered by height — we will be OK.”
Camaraderie and confidence are underrated aspects of high school athletics. Frederick girls basketball knows that all too well.
Early into the season, the Golden Eagles are making waves with a 4-2 record, including a couple of impressive performances against No. 2 Mead (47-44 loss) and Erie (49-46 overtime win). The trust that the girls have instilled within one another have carried them to victory on more than one occasion as the team seems to have taken a step forward from its 13-11 record from the season past.
“We shot the ball poorly and found ourselves down seven with 1:10 left in the fourth quarter,” head coach Jake Hanson said. “There was absolutely no panic. We knocked down a couple big shots and found a way to get the game into overtime. On the bench before overtime, Savanna (Staff) took control of the huddle, reminding everyone that the job wasn’t finished yet and the girls gave everything they had to pull out the win in OT. They continue to stick to the plan and trust each other.”
Their efforts on the court have earned the Golden Eagles enough votes to sit at No. 13, more or less, in the 5A poll as they head into the 2023 portion of their slate.
Senior point guard Staff has been instrumental to that success with her 12.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg, and 3.5 assists per game. Junior center/forward Gabby Jima has only aided her with 9.2 ppg and 5.5 rpg, as the team as a whole has contributed a strong collective effort on the glass.
Hanson hopes the team continues to grow as he emphasizes the little things in competition and in practice, and the Golden Eagles will have a strong chance to add another tick to the win column when they travel to Fort Morgan on Wednesday.
No. 1 Holy Family (6-0)
Dynasties are hard to come by in the revolving door that is high school athletics, but Holy Family has solidified itself among the most elite girls basketball programs in Colorado.
Coming into this season, the Tigers housed a 350-58 record dating back to the 2006-07 season and have collected six state championships in Class 3A since. Last season, they fell to Green Mountain in the Great 8, but they’ve wasted no time rising to the top of Class 4A this year as they’ve knocked down all of their first six opponents by no less than 19 points.
Nobody can compete against that — so far.
Even with that early dominance, the Tigers had to do a little soul-searching at the beginning of the year with the unfortunate knee injury of last year’s starting point guard, Mariah Quintana. In her absence, junior shooting guard Julia Hodell, junior point guard Essynce Contreraz, junior Jennifer Altshuler and senior small forward Fiona Snashall have had to step up — rather flawlessly, as it turns out.
Snashall has taken the reins with 12.7 ppg and 11.7 rpg as Hodell (12.8 ppg, 4.5 steals per game), Contreraz (11.5 ppg, 5.3 spg) and Altshuler (7.0 ppg, 4.4 rpg) have been right there with her. Head coach Ron Rossi believes his ladies can keep up the intensity once league play hits, but that’s just par for the course for this Holy Family monarchy.
“Last year I had experienced big players and young guards,” he said. “This year, I got experienced perimeter players and have three freshmen contributing to the team’s success so far. This team is super quick, athletic and very explosive offensively to score in runs of offense. This year’s offensive team is more balanced but so far this season, our defense has turned out to be our signature of our team as in December we (gave up) 30 ppg on defense.”
The Tigers will begin 2023 at Elizabeth on Tuesday.
Peak to Peak (3-4)
Tough schedules can be a burden early into a non-conference schedule, but they can also be a great blessing once league play hits.
That, at least, is what Peak to Peak hopes will come to pass.
Through their first seven games of the season, the Pumas have taken their lumps against some of the areas toughest teams: 5A’s No. 3 Centaurus, 4A’s No. 4 University, 5A’s No. 6 Glenwood Springs and 4A’s No. 6 Eaton. Their victories against Palisade, Rifle and SkyView Academy have been nothing short of impressive, as they’ve come by margins of 23 points or more.
For their early performance, the Pumas were earning votes in CHSAA’s latest poll, putting them at No. 16 in 4A. They’re hoping the experience they’ve spent the last few years building up will propel them forward in a tough Metro League.
“Last year, we were young and inexperienced,” head coach Joe Howard said. “This year, we have upperclassmen who have been through a lot together, including qualifying for the playoffs in the shortened pandemic season and a lot of really close and tough games last year. We also have our sophomores who had to play a lot of minutes as freshmen last year. This has led to more resilience this year. Even in some of the tough games we have lost, we have responded to runs, made runs of our own, and fought until the end.”
One of those sophomores, guard/forward Alexandra Eschmeyer, has become the Swiss Army Knife of everything Puma basketball, as she leads the team with 18.9 ppg, 13.9 rpg and 6.0 blocks per game. Only junior Megan Wagner has come close to touching those numbers, as she’s contributed 9.4 ppg and 5.1 rpg.
The Pumas will hit the hardwood again in 2023 against Kent Denver a week from Saturday.