Idalia won the last two state titles, but after being hit hard by graduation, the Wolves failed to make the field this year. There is no shortage of contenders to take the crown, headlined by a pair of unbeatens, top-seeded Kit Carson and #6 Antonito. Two one-loss teams are also in the field, as #2 Heritage Christian and #3 Fleming both represent District 4, as does #5 Briggsdale.
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.
KIT CARSON (22-0)
Kit Carson has made a habit out of appearing at state under head coach Sara Crawford. This is the fifth straight year the Wildcats have made the Great 8, and they've been here six of the last seven seasons. This is also the third consecutive appearance with an unblemished mark. Each of the previous two have finished with 24-1 records. Last year, the Wildcats were upset by South Baca in the quarterfinals and 2015 saw them come up short in the semifinals against Sangre de Cristo. They brought home the third place trophy that year and claimed the consolation championship last season.
The Wildcats have won three straight District 2 titles, beating Eads each time in the championship game. This year, it was a 54-22 decision over the Eagles, who are also in the field. Kit Carson earned the state bid by beating McClave 53-29 last week at regionals. The Wildcats had a 26-20 lead at half, and outscored the Cardinals 27-9 after the break. Tess Hornung (20 points) and Micayla Isenbart (16 points) did most of the damage. Isenbart hit 10 of 12 free throws in the contest.
Hornung leads a strong group of underclassmen, averaging 14 points and eight boards a night as a sophomore. Isenbart, a junior, gives the team 10 points and over four assists a game, while her younger sisters Olivia (sophomore) and Reyna (freshman) both average better than nine points and five rebounds. Shayla Bogenhagen, the lone senior on the roster, averages six points a night and is shooting close to 40% on three-pointers.
Nucla rides a six-game winning streak into its first tournament appearance since 2005. The Mustangs had to win a pigtail game to get into the District 1 tournament, where they would go on to upset Ouray for the title, 42-30. That avenged two regular season losses to the Trojans. In the Western Regional, the Mustangs kept rolling, defeating Sierra Grande 42-37.
The last time Nucla made the tournament, the Mustangs were in 2A. That year, they fell to the eventual champs, Limon, in the opening round, and then were sent home by Grand Valley in the consolation semifinals. The program does own a state title, winning the 2A crown in 1998. That game saw the Mustangs defeat Simla 55-37.
Taylor Sickels is the lone player scoring in double figures, as the senior averages 15.3 points and almost seven rebounds a game. Carlie Wytulka contributes close to a double-double a night, giving 9.4 points and 10.9 boards. Joining those two seniors atop the stat sheet is sophomore Taryn Sickels, who scores better than six points a contest.
SOUTH BACA (19-3)
South Baca is another team that has put six straight games in the win column. The Patriots, champions of District 3, last lost to Eads a month ago. They had to survive an overtime game with Holly in the district semifinals and a 32-29 victory over Kim/Branson in the championship game to keep that winning streak alive. There was less drama in the regional round, as the Patriots cruised past Edison (63-27) and Kiowa (50-32).
This is the second straight year in the Great 8 for the Patriots, who lost their final two games after upsetting Kit Carson last year. South Baca lost to Idalia in the semifinals (47-36) and Sangre de Cristo in the third place contest (54-48). In four seasons under coach Tom Jacobs, the Patriots have won 74 games and only lost 16.
Bree-ann Carwin powers the team, posting team-leading figures in scoring (21.9 ppg), rebounds (10.5), steals (3.7) and assists (2.3). The senior went over 1,000 career points in a victory over Keyes, OK on Jan. 24th. Frankie Ormiston (9.7 ppg) and Delaney Eskew (9.3 ppg) both complement Carwin on the offensive end, and they combine to add close to six steals a game as well.
Three of Briggsdale's five losses this season came against #3 Fleming, and another was against #2 Heritage Christian. The remaining defeat came early in the year to Arickaree/Woodlin, who nearly upset Heritage Christian last week in the Northeast Regional. The Falcons finished second to Idalia last year, 49-33, and have been in the tournament three of the last four years, all under coach Colin Nicklas.
Briggsdale finished second in the North Central League, behind Fleming, and defeated Caliche 48-31 to claim third in District 4. The Falcons received a bye in the Northeast Regional, and punched their ticket to state by beating Otis 47-32 in the finals. Jodel Erickson had 16 points in that win, and Skyla Miller added 11.
Erickson averages 13.5 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.8 steals and 2.2 assists for the Falcons, and the junior has a good shot at reaching the 1,000 point milestone next year. Miller contributes eight points a game, and Nikki Anderson adds 7.4 points, three assists and more than two steals. Due to injury, the Falcons have only had seven healthy players in the postseason.
The Wildcats are aiming for a rematch with Kit Carson after falling to the #1 seed 55-44 back on Feb. 4th. Fleming had won 14 straight to open the season, and have chalked up eight more wins in a row since suffering their only loss of the season. The Wildcats not only won the NCL, but also District 4. Fleming downed Heritage Christian 67-55 for the district championship, and after receiving a bye to begin last week's regional round, the Wildcats bested Rocky Mountain Lutheran 51-31.
In just the second season under Randy Kirkwood, the Wildcats are averaging 57 points a game and are winning by an average of 25 points a night. Kirkwood directed the Caliche boys to four state titles, a runner-up, a third place and a fourth place finish in seven seasons. In those seven seasons, he compiled a 153-26 record. In his two years at Fleming, his teams have gone 42-5.
Junior Alli Keisel leads the squad at 14.5 points and she pulls down close to eight boards a game. Sophomore guard Jenna Lengfelder adds 12 points and five steals, and Northeastern Junior College signee Kalyn Serrato gives 10 points, six rebounds, 4.3 steals and 3.6 assists. Shaylee Johnson, Bailey Chintala, Sandra Lockard and Hannah Blom-Ziegler all average between 3.5. and 7.5 points, and at least 2.3 steals. The team averages over 20 steals a game, good for 55th in the country.
In 2013, Jeremy Romero's first directing the program, Antonito won three games. That jumped to 16, 17 and now 23. The Trojans won the Southern Peaks title and also the District 6 crown, and a regional victory over Ouray gave the program its first-ever Great 8 appearance. It is also believed to be the first state basketball trip for the school.
The Trojans saw more games decided by 60-plus points (4) than single digits (3). Antonito averages 64.7 points and only allows 30 a night. Only one player on the roster stands above 5'6”, but the team still has two players pulling down more than 14 rebounds a night.
Erykah Tallman (5'6”) leads the squad with 15.6 points and 14.8 boards, just ahead of Joslyn Garcia (5'3”), who tallies 14.8 points. Brenay Ruybal (5'5”) scores nine points and grabs 14.5 rebounds, and Tyana Sanchez (5'5”) adds eight points.
HERITAGE CHRISTIAN (22-1)
After winning the Mile High League, Heritage Christian dropped into the District 4 tournament, where the Eagles finished second to Fleming. It nearly became consecutive losses to end their season, as the Eagles needed a fourth quarter rally to escape Arickaree/Woodlin in the regional final last week, 28-21. The Eagles trailed 14-8 at the half, and even after holding the Indian-Mustangs scoreless in the third, still found themselves down 14-13 entering the fourth.
Sarah McGinley, who is headed to Colorado Christian University, was neutralized by an undersized defender, Abbi Miller, who held the standout to just three points on 1-14 shooting from the floor, and 1-6 at the foul line. Kennedy Hughes, Jenn Stellingwerf, Kaylee Bluth, and Annie Weaver, who all stepped up in a 48-43 district quarterfinal victory over Caliche, all rose to the occasion and carried the Eagles to victory.
McGinley still leads the team with 21 points, 10 rebounds, 6,4 assists, 3.8 steals and almost two blocks a game. Hughes adds 10.5 points and five rebounds, while Bluth and Stellingwerf both average 6.5 points. Bluth contributes 3.4 assists and 2.3 steals, and Stellingwerf grabs six rebounds. Weaver and Sarah Collins combine for a little over 10 points a night.
Close games have become the norm for Eads lately. The Eagles have had 10 games decided by seven points or fewer this year, and they've won seven of those games. Six of those close games came down the stretch and the Eagles won five of them, including two at regionals. Coach Trey Eder's squad defeated Holly (56-52) and Kim/Branson (34-29) last weekend to earn the trip to state. It is their fourth visit in the last five seasons. In six seasons under Eder, the Eagles have posted a 106-36 record.
No program in any classification has claimed more state titles than Eads. The Eagles have won nine championships, including back-to-back in 2007 and 2008.
Without a senior on the roster, junior Mariah Smith provides much of the leadership. Smith leads the team at 10.6 points and 8.1 rebounds a night, recording seven double-doubles. Miranda Mitchek adds 9.5 points, 3.5 assists and 2.4 steals. Kaylee Wilson (8.5 ppg) and Brenna Rouse (6.3 ppg) combine for almost 15 points a game.