5A GIRLS BASKETBALL PREVIEW

It may not have been the shot heard across Class 5A, but it must have been close.
Call it a Saturday night special — Ashley Steffeck nailed a buzzer-beating 3-pointer as Fossil Ridge beat Highlands Ranch 58-57 in Fort Collins in big-school nonleague. Better yet, it was the first in-state loss for the Falcons.
Throw in Regis Jesuit’s earlier defeat of defending state champion Grandview and look around the rest of the class — it remains any team’s title to win with as many as 10-or-more teams with theirneyes on the prize.
It’s good for Colorado, good for big-school ball and good for those who follow it. Lots of teams will enter league play this week and Fort Collins remains the only undefeated team in 5A.
The race is on.
As for teams to be considered within the mix, why not count Fruita Monument among them? The Western-Slope Wildcats entered the week 11-1, the second-best mark in the class. And now’s the time for another peek at them. They will open Southwestern League play on Tuesday at Central (G.J.); head across the mountains to the metropolitan area to meet Dakota Ridge on Friday; and follow with a trip to Colorado Springs on Saturday to face Discovery Canyon.
Riley Snyder heads Fruita Monument with 18 points per outing.
Tuesday’s busy schedule also will include a hot Castle View (10-2) at Prairie View and what should be an interesting Mountain Vista at Denver East, the latter two being nonleague.
Lakewood and Camilla Emsbo (16.3 points) should have a challenging week with a Wednesday game in Jefferson County at Columbine, then a home game on Friday against Arvada West.
To the latter part of the week, two are be must-see. First, Fairview (7-4) will be at Horizon (10-1) on Friday night in the Front Range and it should be good for multiple reasons. The Knights’ Ashley Panem (17.6 points) and Denali Pinto (16.5) will meet the Hawks’ Alyssa Jimenez (18.1 points) and Isabella Allen (13.1). Plus, Horizon will celebrate the 25th anniversary of its 1993 6A championship team. Former Ms. Colorado Basketball Katie Cronin and multiple teammates are scheduled to be in attendance.
In addition, Chaparral (8-4) will be the second Continental team over a few days for Denver East when they get together on Saturday. The Angels, 8-2 and topped by R’Manie Pullings 18.4 points, then will have just one game over the next 14 days, when it will meet Thomas Jefferson on Jan. 20 to open Denver Prep play.
Highlands Ranch (9-3) and headed by Autumn Watts 17.0 points,, will start Continental action on Friday at Douglas County in Castle Rock and follow it with a nonleaguer at home against a struggling Broomfield on Saturday.
As for Regis Jesuit (8-2), coach Carl Mattei said his Raiders “are playing really, really well together right now,” and it should come in handy as they will trek to Berlin, Ohio, for the Classic in the Country Challenge, an elite tournament in which the Raiders had to wait two years to enter and honors Martin Luther King Jr. as well as Perry Reese Jr., a former Ohio coach. After hosting ThunderRidge on Tuesday, Regis Jesuit and nationally known junior Francesca Belibi (11.9 points, 9.4 rebounds) will have games Friday, Saturday and Monday, beginning with GlenOak from Canton, Ohio.
And Fort Collins, which sits atop 5A at 9-0, will be at Rock Canyon in Highlands Ranch in nonleague on Wednesday prior to opening Front Range play on Friday at crosstown-rival Rocky Mountain. Senior Delsie Johnson is scoring 14.9 points and grabbing 8.1 rebounds per game.

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