State finalists from a year ago, Yuma and Paonia, are back in the state tournament again this year and seeded first and second in the bracket. They’re joined in the bracket by fellow returnees Wray and Swink along with newcomers Ignacio, Simla, Del Norte and Haxtun. Game open on Thursday with the champion crowned on Saturday.
We look at all teams below and will follow the tournament with score updates and game recaps all three days of the tournament. The state quarterfinals on Thursday, semifinals on Friday and the championship and third place games on Saturday will all be shown at www.nfhsnetwork.com.
The entire tournament schedule can be seen by clicking here.
On paper the Indians are the defending state champions but roster wise, it’s almost a completely new team making the program’s fifth consecutive state tournament appearance. Four of the starters this year scored in the opening round blowout of Custer County last year but Cody Robinson is the only returnee who saw action in all three games and scored in each as the Indians landed the championship.
Robinson is the top offensive threat for Yuma this year entering the tournament with 14 points per game. She’s reached double figures in 17 games overall including the last four. She netted 23 points in the district championship win over Wray and finished that tournament with 55 points. Robinson dropped in 12 points in the regional final against Limon.
In last year’s state tournament, Robinson finished with 19 points and tallied four in the state championship win over Paonia. She netted eight points in a quarterfinal win over Custer County and seven in the semifinal victory over Cedaredge. Although just a sophomore this year, the team will lean on that experience this weekend.
Chasey Blach (10.9), Avery Whitehead (8.4) and Kenedy Roth (4.1) all got a taste of state tournament play last year. Roth finished with six points, Whitehead two and Blach one in the opener with Custer County. None of the three scored over the next two games but Whitehead did see some brief action in the championship game. They will play more important roles this year as the Indians seek a berth in the finals for a fifth straight season.
The boys program for Ignacio has been a regular visitor to the Great 8 but trips for the girls’ program have been rare. Ignacio won 17 games each of the past two years but could not get to the state tournament due to regional losses against Custer County (2016) and Meeker (2015). They finally cracked through with their 47-31 win over Rangely last Saturday to land the much sought-after state tournament berth.
That win continues a recent hot streak and stretches their win streak five since a loss to 3A state qualifier Pagosa Springs. Only two of their losses are against 2A programs as they dropped an early game to Soroco and a conference game to Norwood. The Bobcats also downed Norwood twice during the season including a 37-22 decision in the district championship game.
Nearly two thirds of the Bobcats’ offense comes from the tandem of Avionne Gomez (15.3) and Morgan Herrera (13.7). the rest of the roster chips in 17 points a game. Both are underclassmen so regardless of how the Bobcats fare this weekend, their future is very bright and the program can build from tournament play.
Gomez, with 50 three-pointers including a state record-tying 10 against Mancos, is the outside threat while Herrera, with nearly 11 rebounds a game, does much of her damage on the inside. Defenses will undoubtedly focus on the two, meaning more shots and opportunities for Makayla Howell (5.9), Alejandra Lujan (5.5) and Larissa Gallegos (4.8). Howell and Gallegos are classmates of Herrera giving the Bobcats three freshmen in the starting lineup.
The Eagles are back in the state tournament this year and hoping for a better showing than a year ago, when they ended up fourth. Wray opened the bracket impressively with a 62-40 win over Swink but fell short against Western Slope opponents Paonia and Cedaredge the next two days. A good nucleus from the club returns making the Eagles one of the top challengers to the state championship.
Paige Beckman (14.2) is the top scorer this year and she has tournament experience. As a junior she missed all 12 field goal attempts over the first two games but rallied to score seven against Cedaredge in the third-place game. She dropped in 18 points in last week’s regional tournament win over Clear Creek and has reached double figures in 13 of her 14 games.
The inside tandem of Morgan Smith (10.2) and Maddie Soehner (8.5) both played extensive minutes in Pueblo last season. Smith totaled 23 points and 30 rebounds in three state tournament games this year. Soehner ended up with 19 points and 11 rebounds. Both have grown from that experience and add nearly 15 combined rebounds to their offensive totals.
Seeding wise, Wray is favored to beat Simla on Thursday and Yuma is also expected to get by Ignacio. If that happens, their semifinal pairing will be the fifth time the two county rivals have played this season. And it will be a grudge match. Wray beat Yuma twice before Christmas but Yuma returned the favor by winning twice since the holidays. Their latest meeting came last Saturday in the district finals and Yuma collected an impressive 58-37 decision.
A tradition rich program, the Cubs are back in the bracket after missing out the last two seasons. And this season has resulted in a major improvement for the Cubs as they’ve collected 11 more wins after earning just eight all last season. Simla was almost eliminated in the district tournament but bounced back from a semifinal loss to Evangelical Christian to beat Colorado Springs School and keep their season alive. They earned a state tournament bid by edging Ellicott in the regional finals. It was the third meeting with the Thunderhawks this season and all three were determined by fewer than five points and the last two had identical scores of 40-36.
Jerraldawn Rector (14.1) is the lone double-digit scorer and she’s been a starter and major contributor since her freshman season. Kegan Hamacher (9.5) is second on the team in scoring and with Rector has combined for 42 treys this year. Ashely Robinson adds six points and six rebounds a game and is one of just two seniors in the rotation. A second senior, Paeton Harms (2.2) is 9th in scoring. Freshman Taylor Warnecke (5.6) and junior Chloe Duffy (5.4) each chip in five points per game.
Schedule wise, Simla has not faced a team that’s in the state tournament bracket in any class. But they did compete a rugged Black Forest conference schedule that included matchups with Evangelical Christian, Ellicott, and Calhan. Plus, they battled and lost to Kiowa (55-39) who missed the 1A state tournament by just one game.
DEL NORTE (21-2)
We feel the matchup between Del Norte and Haxtun has a chance to be the best first round game on Thursday. Both clubs are conference champions and both have talented players that can take over the game on either end of the floor. The two are part of a loaded bottom half of the bracket that also includes pre-tournament favorite Paonia and the winner of this one likely meets the Eagles in the state semifinals.
Del Norte opened the season 2-2 with losses to 3A opponents Olathe and Lamar, but has strung together 19 consecutive wins. They started the streak with an impressive win over Swink (56-39) and extended it last week by rolling past a very good Meeker squad (50-33) in the regional final. Freshman Kendra Parra sparked the regional final win with a game high 22 points and she was joined in double figures by Devin Dallas (11) and Bailey Jones (10).
All three will be very important to the Tigers against Haxtun this Thursday. Parra and Jones are both talented but will be up against taller defenders against Haxtun. Dallas and Lacie Jones must stay out of foul trouble against the physical front line of the Bulldogs.
Parra (15.4) and Bailey Jones (12.6) combine for 28 points to lead the offense but Dallas (8.3) and Lacie Jones (7.7) also contribute on a nightly basis. They also handle much of the rebounding duties with Lacie Jones averaging seven and Dallas six per game.
With 19 wins on the season, the Bulldogs have recorded the most wins since they won 20 in the 2007-08 season. That was also the last time the program has reached the state tournament. Haxtun won the consolation crown in Class 1A that season but then won only 14 games over the next four season so Rich Gerk has done a good job rebuilding the program back into a state tournament qualifier.
Minus point guard Megan Gerk, the Bulldogs are basically the same team from the squad that won 17 games a year ago, but one that was eliminated in the regional finals by Wray. This year, the Bulldogs advanced from districts by beating Holyoke and then dispatched both Highland and Evangelical Christian in the regional round last week. Quick starts were crucial in all three wins. The Bulldogs led Holyoke 17-4 after one quarter, Highland 20-7 at the same time and then jumped on Evangelical Christian 13-1 out of the gate.
With Del Norte in the opener, Paonia or Swink in the semifinals and then maybe a Lower Platte rival in the finals, Haxtun has a difficult road to the championship but they have the talent to get there. They’re the only conference team to beat Yuma and won the regular season championship in the rugged Lower Platte. Seniors Josi Kurtzer (14.2) and Callie Dickerson (9.9) are both very good at the low post and together combine for 24 points and 15 rebounds a game but the Bulldogs best player may be Dawson Knode. Only a sophomore, Knode averages a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds per game and is second on the team with 12 three-pointers including three in the district win over Holyoke.
Another key player is Marissa Schelling. She averages nearly seven points a game but may be more of a factor as her 5-10 frame and long arms could pose problems for the smaller Del Norte guards in the first round. She averages two steals and one block per game from her off guard position.
After losing the state championship game to Yuma last year, Paonia needed little motivation in their attempt to grab a title this year but they may have received some more from the RPI. Ranked number one before regionals, the Eagles were dropped to second behind Yuma in the official state pairings despite a perfect 22-0 record. Despite the drop in the bracket, Coach Scott Reinks’ club remains the favorite to land the state championship. They have recent experience to rely on as they grabbed the 2A crown back in 2010; also under the direction of Reinks.
Dominant through the entire season, Paonia has won their 22 points by more points (724) than they’ve allowed (649). Single digits have determined only two games as they edged 3A Olathe 50-43 on December 6th and Soroco 64-57 on January 13th. Since the Soroco game, the Eagles have a ten-point win over Grand Valley (44-34) but all others are by at least 14 points.
Offense usually generates the headlines, but it’s pressure defense that has carried the Eagles this year. They average 21 steals per game and those live ball turnovers are often turned into layups on the other end. Emily Pieper picks up six steals per game and scores 12 points a game. Sophia Anderson is second in steals 94.0) but first in points (16.3). McKenna Hartigan (3.9), Brianna Van Vleet (2.5) and Brittany Kendall (2.0) also average over two steals per game and two others are closing in on that number.
Van Vleet (10.0) is a third double-digit scorer with Hartigan adding nine points and six rebounds per game. Kendall scores five points per game with over three rebounds.
Last year the Lions made their first state tournament appearance since 2006-07 and picked up a win over Sanford (36-25) in the consolation finals. The goal this year is to get on the winners’ side of the bracket and see what happens from there but the draw is a tough one as they face unbeaten Paonia in the quarterfinals.
The Lions though won’t be an easy out. They fell to 3A state qualifier Centauri (35-33) and Del Norte (56-39) in week two at the La Junta Holiday Shootout but haven’t experienced a loss since. Curt Lewis’ team stretched their winning streak to 19 last Saturday by beating Denver Christian (39-35) in the regional championship last Saturday. Kyla O’Neal poured in 16 points in the win and Brianna Denton added nine.
Denton (14.2) and O’Neal (12.1) could be called veteran sophomores. Despite being in just their second year of high school, both have started nearly 50 games and were key contributors to the state tournament run as freshmen. Denton scored 24 points at state last year including a dozen in the consolation final against Kiowa. O’Neal reached double figures twice with 11 against Wray and 13 against Sanford and finished with seven against Kiowa.
Those two and senior Hope Roweth (9.7) will be charged with handling the pressure of Paonia as ball control and turnovers will be critical to Swink’s success. Sophomores Courtney Estrada (4.7) and Tierra Holland (4.7) will also be called upon to finish against the break and help with rebounding defensively as they combine for over nine ‘boards per game.