Our season preview looks at the top teams in Class 3A girls basketball as voted on by coaches throughout the state. Games can begin on Monday.
#1 University: After earning their first visit to the Great 8 since 1990 and with a good nucleus returning, the Bulldogs open the season atop the 3A coaches’ poll. The Bulldogs finished last season 22-3 and closed with a 52-34 loss to Centauri in the state quarterfinals. Based on the preseason polling, those two clubs could meet again in this year’s state event. Backcourt play will be the strength this season as the Kravig sisters return. Senior Kylie is a high-level all-around player that led the Bulldogs in scoring (13.8), assists (4.4) and steals (3.8) a year ago. She was also third on the boards with over four per game. Sophomore Taryn earned several starts in her freshman season; finishing with 8.2 points and 3.6 rebounds a contest. She also topped the club with 28 three-pointers; Kylie added 25. Inside, the Bulldogs will miss the graduated Taylor Gollhofer who finished her career with 734 points and 617 rebounds; but look for sophomore Miranda Wiedeman to pick up some of that slack. She received plenty of playing time a year ago as Gollhofer was limited to 15 games due to injury and responded with nearly seven points and seven rebounds a game. Both of those numbers could improve this season. Emry Trujillo (5.4 pts) and Sam Yost (4.8) also return. The schedule is again difficult. The Bulldogs meet Lutheran (Jan 29th) in week one and have a late season date with Academy (Feb 27th). In-between are the normal conference battles against the likes of Eaton, Platte Valley, Sterling and Brush.
#2 Centauri: A strong returning senior class hopes to lead the Falcons back to the state tournament where they downed University in the state quarterfinals. The win over University was their 21st of the season and they were set to battle Eaton in the semis when the remaining two days of the season were cancelled. Brenna McDaniel (9.2) and Courtney Hamilton (8.8) were 2-3 in scoring last year; combining for 18 points a game and also 9.5 rebounds. Each also collected two steals per game. Ashtyn Haslett (6.5) and Brynli Sowards (5-4) were next on the scoring sheet and could see improved stats this year. Two other seniors in Alyssa Bagwell (1.5) and Camrey Ruybal (0.8) could also see extended minutes as the Falcons search for a void in points left by the graduation of Mia Garcia (10.0), McKenna Bagwell (3.8) and Aubrey Robbins (3.4). The schedule is very difficult with home and away contests against conference rivals Pagosa Springs and Alamosa and non-league dates with 4A Pueblo County and Durango along with Delta, Vanguard, Rye and Sanford.
#3 Academy: It was a disappointing end to an otherwise great season for the Wildcats in 2019-20. They opened the season with three wins in three days over University, Eaton and Platte Valley and went on to win their first 23 games of the year before an upset loss to Brush (62-57) in the regional finals. That loss prevented the Wildcats from reaching their first ever state quarterfinals. Another run is possible this year thanks to the return of Aryanna Perez (18.6) and Mikylah Espinoza (16.9) who combined for nearly 36 points a game. Perez reached double figures in 23 of 25 games but was limited to just four points vs Brush. Espinoza tallied 22 against the Beetdiggers and also scored at least 10 in all but two contests. The Wildcats though will need some help on the inside as both Janaya Steffy and Alyssa Remy are gone to graduation. Together they provided 13 points and 10 rebounds a game. Picking up some of the slack will be Daniela Pont. She averaged five points and four ‘boards a game. Jordan Peterson will also help out after scoring 4.5 points with 1.6 rebounds a year ago. A full schedule has yet to be posted on MaxPreps but one date can be circled as the Wildcats will face University on February 27th.
#4 Lutheran: The tradition rich Lions will find out quickly how good the 2021 club is as they open with 4A power Holy Family on January 27th and follow that up with battles against University on the 29th and Faith Christian on February 3rd. Then in mid-February, the Lions face Skyview Academy and 5A Chaparral on the road on back-to-back days. Last year, the Lions ran the table in the Metro (11-0) but missed a state tournament bid due to a 42-36 loss to Eaton in the regional finals. The top three scorers from last year’s club were expected to return but only two will do so as Kaitylyn Kyle (10.1) transferred to Ponderosa. Returning though is standout guard Stephanie Schultz who topped the Lions with 14.5 points and is also a threat defensively. Sophomore Raelyn Kelty led the Lions in rebounds (5.6) and was also third in scoring (6.9). Other key returnees are juniors Brindelyn Schneider (4.6) and Kallie Lemon (3.8) along with sophomore Joclyn Bassett (2.9). Schneider was also second on the board with over five per game (5.3).
#5 Vanguard: Much like Academy, the Coursers have rebuilt the program with very young talented players taking on most of the offensive load. It worked very well a year ago as they captured 20 wins and earned a berth in the state quarterfinals. There they lost to two-time state champion St Mary’s but the experience from that run should boost their chances of making a return to the state tourney this season. Alexis Garcia (13.7) begins her senior season with exactly 1,000 points and has averaged at least 13 points in each of her three previous seasons. She dropped in 28 three-pointers which was actually third best behind now sophomores Juliana Garcia (39) and Hailey Blanchard (34). On the season, both Garcia (11.6) and Blanchard (11.9) averaged double figures and will again provide quality support to the senior leadership of Alexis Garcia. A huge graduation loss is Cortney Arrasmith as she led the team with 9.8 rebounds and was fourth with 5.4 points per game. With her absence, junior Zoe Killimann may be called upon for more minutes. She collected 6.2 rebounds and scored 2.8 points a game a year ago. Also looking to see more action are sophomore Olivia Caton (2.3) and junior Rebecca Lewis (2.1). They combined for nearly five rebounds last season. The Coursers look to unseat St Mary’s atop the Tri Peaks conference but won’t face the Pirates until March 1st. Several tough games are set before then including the season opener against Platte Valley on January 30th. They also meet local rivals Manitou Springs and Colorado Springs Christian along with Centauri and Lamar over a crucial 12-day stretch in early to mid-February (5th-17th)
#6 Delta: The defending Western Slope champions welcome back several quality players as they seek a third consecutive trip to the state tournament. Two years ago, the Panthers won 23 games but fell short to Eaton (53-45) in the state quarterfinals. Last year, they battled through some early injuries but still managed 21 wins before dropping a 45-27 Great 8 contest to Pagosa Springs. Sara Geddes (11.7), Marcy Schaal (4.7) and Haylin McCulloch (3.9) graduated last Spring but overall, the Panthers return three of their top four scorers and five of their top six rebounders. Keely Porter topped the scoresheet last season (12.8) and also collected 4.4 rebounds. Erika Kuta was fourth in scoring (9.6) but number one on the boards (8.3). Alexa Huff was third in both categories; scoring an even 10 points per game to go along with 5.6 rebounds. Also back is Jessica Dexter with nearly three points and three rebounds a contest. Games with Durango, Montrose, Centauri and Alamosa present a strong start to the 2021 schedule as the Panthers face all four teams before February 6th. Another league championship may come down to results with Moffat County and Coal Ridge. They face both the Bulldogs and Titans on the road over a four-day stretch February 20-23rd.
#7 Platte Valley: The top four scorers from last year’s 17-win team were either freshmen or sophomores so look for the Broncos to continue their climb up the 3A ladder. Cora Schissler (13.8) and Brooke Bunting (11.6) led the team on offense as sophomores with younger sisters Bree Bunting (9.5) and Andi Schissler (6.6) third and fourth. Cora Schissler was the top outside threat with 64 three-pointers. Senior Rhys Maxey also provides inside presence after leading the Broncos with 6.3 rebounds a year ago. All five are a year stronger and with all the experience gained last season, should let them contend for the Patriot league championship. The Broncos face three quality opponents in week one and could get tested in each by 4A Weld Central, Faith Christian and Vanguard. Their league schedule is front loaded as they meet Brush, Sterling and University all before February 13th.
#8 St Mary’s: The Pirates have been the standard bearer in Class 3A for the past three seasons but they head in a slightly new direction for 2021 as son Kyle has taken the reins from dad Mike as coach of the program. Kyle has been one step away from his dad each of the past three seasons when the Pirates won championships in 2018 and 2019 and were expected to win a third straight last March when the season was ended by COVID. They finished 24-1 last season with a lone blemish against 5A state champion Cherry Creek. Along the way they outscored opponents 1,872-768 with quality wins against Mead, Pagosa Springs, University, Lutheran, Vanguard, Manitou Springs and Lamar. They blew past Vanguard (54-24) in the state quarterfinals. The top four scorers a year ago were seniors including the backcourt combination of Josephine Howery (21.2) and Seneca Hackley (16.2). Both were basically four-year starters with Howery ending her career at 1,672 points and Hackley 1,183. Ellie Hartman (7.4) and Payton Kutz (3.4) are the only two returnees scoring more than two points per game. Hartman hit 38 three-pointers overall and Kutz scored in all but four games as a sophomore. Class 2A Peyton is first up on the schedule this year (January 30th) and the Pirates wait until March 1st to face Vanguard.
#9 Pagosa Springs: Former assistant Charles Rand takes over the program from long-time coach Wes Lewis who this year will direct the boys’ program. The Pirates were 20-4 last year; their seventh season of at least 20 wins over the last eight. They topped Delta (45-27) in the state quarterfinals last season and were excited about a semifinal rematch with two-time champion St Mary’s when the season came to the unexpected close. There are some graduation holes to fill as the Pirates lost their top two and four of their top six scorers from last year. That means the Pirates will lean a bit more on returnees Adelyn Dozier (8.3) and Molly Grahm (5.3) until new faces adjust to starting roles. One of those new faces could be Kori Lucero. She appeared in 22 games as a sophomore and dropped in 1.9 points with one assist per game. Other than a February 2nd date with Alamosa, the 2021 schedule overall is backloaded a bit. The Pirates don’t face Centauri until their first meeting on February 13th and local pairings against Ignacio and Durango occur after that as well.
#10 Eaton: The Reds (21-4) are the third Patriot league team in the preseason top 10 and even though they lost three quality seniors, they can easily contend for another berth in the Great 8. They reached the semifinals a year ago as they toppled Lutheran (42-36) in the regional finals and then Brush (57-33) in the state quarterfinals. In the win over Brush, Ahana Leffler led the way with 19 points and she returns for her junior season after averaging 9.3 points a game overall. She ended up second on the team to Nakaiya Kuskie (10.9) who also returns as one of the top three-point threats in the division. She finished with 86 treys including three straight games of at least seven. Her school record of eight came in a 57-28 win over Estes Park. Jennifer Jarnigan also comes back for the Reds after chipping in nearly six points and five rebounds a game. Other players with plenty of varsity experience last season include sophomores Abiah Randel (2.9), Leyah Scott (1.9), Blake Duncan (1.8) and Jisell Chumacero (1.8). Chumacero also provided 3.5 rebounds a night. A local rivalry game with Highland opens the season next Tuesday and then the Reds quickly start the Patriot chase at Sterling January 29th. Matchups with University (Feb 23rd), Platte Valley (March 3rd) and Brush (March 5th) come much later in the year.
#11 Manitou Springs won 19 games last year but missed a trip to Denver because of a regional final loss to Pagosa Springs (41-16). Leading scorer Aniah Olson (12.4) was the only senior on last year’s club so a trip to state is not out of the question this year. Alexia Vigil (9.6) and Grace Allen (9.5) both nearly averaged double figures on offense last year and each collected four rebounds a night. The Mustangs face Vanguard (Feb 5th) and St Mary’s (Feb 25th) for key Tri Peaks league matchups and Class 2A #1 Rye is a tough week one hurdle. #12 Brush often gets lost in the Patriot league shuffle behind University, Eaton and Platte Valley but the Beetdiggers will again put a talented team on the floor. They were seeded just 15th in the 32-team state bracket last season but reached the quarterfinals by beating Grand Valley and Academy by a combined six points in the regional tournament. Top returnees include Brooke Rule (9.8 pts / 5.5 rebs), Kenzie Kraich (6.0 pts / 7.4 rebs) and Karly Tadolini (5.0 pts / 2.7 rebs). #13 Alamosa is similar to Brush in the Intermountain as most of the attention falls on Centauri and Pagosa Springs. The Moose though have been in the league title mix and state tournament chase each of the last two years; combining for 35 wins in that stretch. Leading scorer Emily Lavier (14.2) returns after hitting 56 three-pointers last season including a state record 12 in a win over Monte Vista. Also returning is Terese Chavez who averaged seven points, three rebounds and two steals a game. #14 St Mary’s Academy won just two games last season so they’re a surprise visitor in the preseason top 15. The Wildcats return Maggie Hass who averaged a team best seven points per game. She was also third in rebounds with over five a contest. #15 Moffat County was led in scoring last season by a freshman and sophomore as Cayden King (11.3) and Halle Hamilton (10.4) both averaged double figures. They also combined for nearly ten rebounds. Seniors Emaleigh Papierski (8.4) and Amber Salazar (5.7) also return as the Bulldogs look to improve on the winning percentage from last season (12-9). They were bounced in the first round of regionals by Jefferson Academy (52-50).
OTHER TOP PLAYERS RETURNING
|Macee Shulz||Bayfield||10.8 rebounds|
|Taylor Wiescamp||Coal Ridge||13.5 points|
|Ella Freimuth||Colorado Academy||9.6 rebounds|
|Erishai Okra||Colorado Academy||3.2 assists|
|Cora Rhodes||DSST-Byers||3.7 assists|
|Illian Freire||DSST-College View||8.4 rebounds|
|Felisha Chavez||DSST-Montview||16.4 points|
|Samantha Byerly||Frontier Academy||3.7 assists|
|Amanda Licht||Kent Denver||13.4 points|
|Izzy Swanson||Liberty Common||11.6 rebounds|
|Aida Kendee||Manual||8.7 rebounds|
|Katie Trail||Middle Park||15.0 points / 3.0 assists|
|Jasmine Gonzalez||Pinnacle||9.6 rebounds|
|Elizabeth Rooks||Prospect Ridge||9.8 rebounds|
|Zoe Webster||Prospect Ridge||3.0 assists|
|Maya Lindgren||Roaring Fork||12.8 points|
|Emily Sanchez||Sheridan||15.3 points|