Twenty-two teams will take the court this weekend, competing for eight spots in next week’s state tournament. Just under half of these teams will only need one victory to punch their ticket, while the other 12 find themselves needing two more wins to secure their trip to Greeley.
NORTHEAST REGIONAL — BRUSH HIGH SCHOOL
#6 IDALIA (12-10) VS #7 GENOA-HUGO (10-12) 2:00PM FRIDAY
Idalia, the third place finisher in District 5, will see a familiar foe in its semifinal game. The Wolves faced Genoa-Hugo twice during the regular season, both in early December. Idalia won both of those previous meetings, 37-33 at the Jeff Sherman Memorial at Woodlin, and 37-17 a week later on its home floor. Breann Shaffer had nine points in the first clash and then exploded for 16 in round two.
The Wolves posted a 4-7 mark against 1A regional qualifiers, including the two wins over the Pirates. The other wins came over Arickaree/Woodlin and Flagler/Hi-Plains, the two teams who finished ahead of them in the district tournament. Shaffer leads the team with 12.5 points and 10.4 rebounds a night, accounting for all 10 of the squad’s double-doubles.
Genoa-Hugo lost senior Heather Graham to a knee injury in the first loss to Idalia and she missed the rest of December. The Pirates limped through a 0-6 record during that month, and dropped their first two games in 2018 before finally getting in the win column with an upset of Arickaree/Woodlin. That started a six-game winning streak. Â The Pirates were the top seed in the District 7 tournament, where they finished second behind Kiowa, losing 39-34 in the title game.
Nine of their first 10 games this season were against regional qualifiers, and the Pirates have played 14 total games against teams still alive this weekend. They have posted a 4-10 record in those games. Graham has averaged just over 10 points a game since returning from her injury, second best on the team. Ryely Smartt leads the way at 14 a night, to go with better than nine boards per contest. She has nine double-doubles on the season.
The winner will advance to the 1:00 pm game on Saturday, where top-seeded Fleming (20-2) will be waiting. The Wildcats earned the championship in District 4, defeating Pawnee, Longmont Christian and Briggsdale along the way. Their only losses on the season have been to 2A qualifier Holyoke and the defending 1A state champion, Kit Carson.
Fleming posted a 54-27 victory over Idalia in mid-January, holding Shaffer to six points. Alli Keisel led the way with 15 points and Sandra Lockard added 11. Keisel is averaging just short of 17 points a game, followed by Jenna Lengfelder and Kendyl Kirkwood, both at 11.
#5 FLAGLER/HI-PLAINS (11-10) VS #8 KIOWA (12-10) 5:00PM FRIDAY
Fast starts in the District 5 semis and finals propelled Flagler/Hi-Plains to the championship of that tournament. The Thunder jumped out to an 11-0 first quarter lead over Idalia in the semifinals and held on for a 39-30 victory over the Wolves. They followed that up with a 13-3 first period against Arickaree/Woodlin. That game would also tighten up, but the Thunder again came out on top, 35-34.
Those two wins boosted the Thunder’s record to 5-7 against regional qualifiers. One of those losses came against their regional semifinal opponent, Kiowa. The Indians claimed a 53-50 victory in mid-December. Flagler/Hi-Plains will look for a big contribution from leading scorer Erin Marzolf in the rematch. The senior is averaging 14 points a game, more than the next two scorers, combined.
Kiowa had three scorers in double figures in that first meeting, including Esther Janes with 17. The senior is tops on the team at just over 11 points a game, but she recently went through a six-game stretch where she averaged less than five points a night. The good news for the Indians was that they went 5-1 during that period. Tawna Upchurch has pushed her scoring to 10 points a game with a recent hot streak.
The Indians opened the season with four straight losses to 2A schools and they did not lose to a 1A opponent until a Jan. 26th defeat by Genoa-Hugo. Their only other loss to a single A school was to Kit Carson in the regular season finale. Overall, the Indians went 1-5 against 2A regional qualifiers and 3-2 against 1A regional teams.
Briggsdale (19-3) awaits the victor in the regional final at 10:00 am on Saturday. The Falcons finished second to Fleming in District 4, falling 49-41 to the Wildcats. Fleming handed Briggsdale all three of its losses on the season, by a total of 12 points. The Falcons only played four other games against regional qualifiers, with two being against the #3 seed in the region, Heritage Christian.
The Falcons are trying to get back to the state tournament, where they won the consolation championship last year. Leading the way are Jodel Erickson and Skyla Miller, both at 13 points a game. Ailaina Suppes (9.5 ppg), Ashley Rueb (8.0 ppg) and Nikki Anderson (7.0 ppg) round out a deep starting five.
#4 ARICKAREE/WOODLIN (15-6) VS #9 ELBERT (8-13) 11:00AM FRIDAY
Arickaree/Woodlin came within an eyelash of claiming the District 5 title last Saturday. A half-court shot at the buzzer just missed the mark, giving the crown to Flagler/Hi-Plains. The Indian-Mustangs were looking to duplicate a feat they accomplished earlier in the game when Micah Koolstra buried a similar shot to beat the first half buzzer. It was just their second loss in the last nine games. Five of their six losses overall have been to regional qualifiers. The Indian-Mustangs also have three victories against such teams.
Koolstra has been the workhorse for Arickaree/Woodlin this season, leading the team in scoring (13.5), rebounding (9.5), steals (4.4) and assists (2.8). Mae Wright has provided an offensive boost, raising her scoring average to just less than 12 points a night. The Indian-Mustangs are one of the lowest scoring teams in the postseason, ahead of only Idalia, McClave and their semifinal opponent, Elbert.
The Bulldogs struggled against the better teams on their schedule this season, failing to record a victory in eight games against teams that will be in action this weekend. Four of those were against 2A squads. Elbert does come in with wins in three of its last four games, but the Bulldogs had lost seven straight prior to this run.
Graycee Lay is the big gun for a squad scoring under 32 points a night, as the junior checks in at 15.2 points per game. Lay also leads the team with 14.5 rebounds, 4.1 blocks and 3.6 steals per contest. She has recorded 13 double-doubles and two triple-doubles.
The third place team from District 4, Heritage Christian (17-5), will face the winner at 4:00 pm on Saturday in a regional final. The Eagles fell to Briggsdale in the district semifinals (54-42) but bounced back to stay alive with a 44-38 win over Longmont Christian. All five of their losses were against regional qualifiers, including three in 2A.
Three Eagles score double figures for the Eagles, led by senior Kennedy Hughes at 16.5. Sarah Collins adds 12 points a night, shooting 45% from three point land. The final member of that group is Emma Johnson, who contributes 10.7 points and a team-leading 9.3 rebounds.
Heritage Christian and Arickaree/Woodlin met in a regional final last year. The Eagles won that defensive struggle, 28-21, outscoring the Indian-Mustangs 15-7 in the fourth quarter. Koolstra led all scorers with nine points, while Hughes tied for honors on the Eagles with eight.
SOUTHEAST REGIONAL — LA JUNTA HIGH SCHOOL
#6 MCCLAVE (14-6) VS #7 SOUTH BACA (13-9) 4:20PM FRIDAY
After beating Eads twice during the regular season, including a High Plains league contest in the final week, McClave was upset by the Eagles in the semifinals of District 2. The Cardinals kept their postseason alive by beating Cheyenne Wells in the third place game, 37-33. Keeping games close has been a specialty for the Cards, and winning them has been a trademark. This season, McClave went 8-3 in games decided by nine points or less.
They were just 4-4 in games against regional qualifiers, including the 2-1 mark against Eads. The Cards also split a pair of games with schools that are still competing in the postseason in Kansas. While Jordan Parker has been the team’s scoring leader at just over 11 points a game, McClave has four more players averaging between 4.3 and 7.2 points a night. Allie Nidey is part of that group, averaging 4.8 points, but her true value has been on the glass (9.8 rebounds) and defense (3.1 steals).
South Baca was on the losing end of one of those close games by McClave, as the Patriots fell to the Cards 47-43 on Jan. 25th. Alissa Hebberd (15) and Delaney Eskew (14) led the way for South Baca, but Parker had a season-high 21 in the win. That was one of five losses to regional teams for the Patriots, with two coming against Holly. Â They also suffered a one-point loss to Des Moines, the #4 seed in the New Mexico Class A tournament.
Eskew leads the team in scoring (12.4), assists (4.6) and steals (4.0), and has recorded two double-doubles, one with 11 steals. Hebberd, a freshman, averages a double-double of 11.2 points and 12.3 rebounds. Sophomores Alison Wilson and Patience Crane both chip in right around eight points a game.
The top seed in the region, Kit Carson (21-0) will get the winner at 4:20 pm on Saturday in the final. The Wildcats have outscored their opponents by an average of 35 points a game this season and they have only had two games decided by fewer than 25 points. Those were 24-point decisions over Eads and Kiowa.
The District 2 champions have now won 94 of their 96 games over the past four seasons. Along with last year’s title, the Wildcats earned a consolation championship in 2016 and a third place finish in 2015. Their last two meetings with South Baca have come in state tournaments, with Kit Carson winning a semifinal contest last year, and the Patriots springing a first round upset the year before. The Wildcats have won nine straight against McClave, including a 52-24 decision in January.
#5 SANGRE DE CRISTO (19-3) VS #8 EADS (16-6) 1:40PM FRIDAY
The best record of any team needing to win two games to qualify for state belongs to Sangre de Cristo. All three of the losses by the Thunderbirds came in their final 10 games, the last two against Antonito in the span of two weeks. Those two losses left the T-Birds as second place finishers in District 6 and needing to beat Eads to gain a second shot at Kim/Branson, who handed them their only other loss.
Sangre de Cristo did earn four victories over regional teams, including one apiece over Antonito and Sierra Grande. The other two came against 2A qualifiers Custer County and Sargent. Jessica Slane is box score filler, averaging 17.2 points, 10.8 rebounds, 4.7 steals, 3.7 assists and 1.6 blocks. She leads the team in every category. Kylee Christensen adds 13.8 points, 3.7 steals and 3.3 assists per night.
Eads is also eager to get another shot at Kim/Branson, as the Eagles handed the Mustangs one of their three losses on the season. The Eagles overcame a slow start on Feb. 9th to claim a 34-29 victory behind 18 points and seven boards from Mariah Smith. The senior averages 10 points and eight rebounds, but was held scoreless in the 54-19 loss to Kit Carson in the district finals.
Down the stretch, it seemed like the Eagles were playing a regional qualifier almost every night. They posted a 6-4 record in those games, but were 5-3 during February in those match-ups. Kaylee Wilson (9.1 ppg) and Miranda Mitchek (8.1 ppg) helped provide offensive balance in those games and all season long.
Kim/Branson (18-3) has won five straight since the loss to Eads, including a 56-34 victory over Holly in the District 3 final. The Mustangs went 6-3 in their games with regional teams, including the 37-20 victory over Sangre de Cristo. They also own a victory over Des Moines, NM.
Joni Brown (15.3 ppg) and Ashley Yergert (12.2 ppg) are the top scorers for the program that is trying to make its way back to state for the first time since 2013. The Mustangs reached the championship game that season, losing to Wiley, 41-40.
#4 HOLLY (15-6) VS #9 SIERRA GRANDE (15-7) 11:00AM FRIDAY
After losing consecutive games to Kit Carson and Springfield in late-January, Holly was staring at a possible three-game skid when it hosted Kim/Branson. The Wildcats righted the ship by gutting out a 39-35 victory, getting a big night from Kallie Cathcart. The junior tallied 15 points, 12 rebounds, five steals and four assists. Holly would go on to win five of its next six games, leading up to the District 3 title game with Kim/Branson. The big two of the Mustangs would outscore the Wildcats by five in the win.
Josie Cook leads the team in scoring at 15.7 points, with Cathcart coming in at 13.7. Those two are rarely off the court, as both average 31 minutes of action a game.
Sierra Grande did well for itself against 2A regional teams, posting a 2-2 mark that was very nearly 3-1. One of the losses was by one point against Custer County. The Panthers did not fare quite as well against the top caliber teams in 1A, winning only one of five contests. The lone win was their signature victory, beating Antonito 61-51 in January. The Trojans beat Sierra Grande 60-34 in the season-opener and 63-33 in the District 6 semifinals.
The Panthers boast a very good 1-2 punch in Abby Corona and Nina Vigil. Corona averages just over 13 points a game and Vigil chips in better than 12. The duo also combines for close to eight steals and seven assists. Randi Espinoza is a solid #3 option, giving the team almost nine points a night.
With #3 seed Antonito (19-3) awaiting the winner, a victory by the Panthers in the semifinals would set up a fourth meeting of the season with the Trojans. Holly has not faced Antonito in at least a decade, as they have not played during the MaxPreps era. The Trojans went 8-3 against teams still playing in the postseason, including 3-0 against New Mexico schools that are in their state tournament.
The Trojans return many key pieces from last year’s state tournament team, including Erykah Tallman and Joslyn Garcia. Garcia leads the team in scoring at just a shade under 15 points a game, while Tallman gives the team 12.8 points and 12.9 rebounds a game, having recorded a dozen double-doubles. Alyssa Romero (8.5 ppg) and Brianna Martinez (7.9 ppg) give Antonito solid scoring depth.
WESTERN REGIONAL — GLENWOOD SPRINGS HIGH SCHOOL
DOVE CREEK (13-8) VS BELLEVIEW CHRISTIAN (17-5) 12:00PM SATURDAY
Dove Creek entered last week’s District 1 championship game having won six straight games and 11 of its last 12 overall. The Bulldogs did not face a 1A regional qualifier until that match-up with North Park, but they did go 2-2 against 2A postseason squads. Dove Creek also lost to one of the top 1A teams in Utah. North Park built an early lead and cruised home with the district title, 53-38.
Cassie Gatlin, who averages 13 points a game, was the lone Bulldog in double figures, scoring 14. Grace Hatfield had her string of 11 straight games in double figures snapped, as the freshman finished with nine. She averages just less than 12 per game.
Belleview Christian started getting noticed in late-January after the Bruins strung together 10 straight wins to move to 11-2 on the season. The last of those wins came against a 3A state qualifier, Eagle Ridge Academy, who had been the last team to beat the Bruins. Belleview would go on to lose three of its next four games. They would avenge two of those losses during the District 8 tournament, en route to the title.
The Bruins average a tick less than 37 points a game, with two players doing most of the damage. Brooke Long leads the way with 13.2 points and 10.9 rebounds, while Sara Torres adds 10.2 points. Tiffanee Ryan gives the squad 10.5 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 4.0 steals a game.
NORTH PARK (16-5) VS CORNERSTONE CHRISTIAN (15-7) 3:00PM SATURDAY
For a number of years, the North Park girls were regulars at the state tournament, but the program had endured seven straight losing seasons coming into this year. The Wildcats have already seen a 12 win improvement over last season and they are one victory away from a long-awaited return visit to the big tournament.
The junior trio of Bailey VanValkenburg, Kayla Jenkins, and Devynn Johnson combined for 39 points in the District 1 championship game, with each scoring at least 11 points. VanValkenburg, who averages 4.5 points and had not scored more than seven in a game since Dec. 7th, led the way with a career-high 16 in the win over Dove Creek. Jenkins, the team leader at 14.3 ppg, tallied 12, and Johnson’s 11 were just off her average of 12.6.
While North Park has a state tournament track record, Cornerstone Christian is on the verge of making program history. The Bulldogs have already secured their first winning season as a member of CHSAA, but with a win on Saturday, they would lock up their first state tournament appearance. To make that happen, they have to avenge a 63-32 loss to North Park back on Dec. 21st. Jenkins went for a career-high 23 points in that Wildcat victory.
The Bulldogs are led by Bryn Durrill, who averages 17.4 points a night. The freshman was held to a season-low four points in the earlier loss to North Park. It’s the only time she has not scored double figures all season. Morgan Durrill pitches in a double-double on average, tallying 10.5 points and 10.4 boards a game. The senior has recorded 10 double-doubles this year.