Going to change gears with girls’ state basketball coverage this year as instead of the normal team capsules full of statistics and numbers you can get elsewhere, Colorado Preps will instead provide some thoughts on each bracket and which teams have the best chance at winning. Kind of opinion piece based on the thousands of miles we’ve traveled this year to watch teams and the video streams from teams in areas we did not get too. We run through the favorites and some of the teams that could surprise.
PHOTO BY JOSEPH HAROLD
Briggsdale is the clear favorite in our mind. Not only are the Falcons unbeaten on the season, they also have wins over two other top four seeds in Flatirons Academy and Fleming. Their quarterfinal matchup with Lone Star is the third meeting with the Longhorns this year and they won the first two by 33 and 19 points respectively.
The Falcons have a very good roster with the Krise cousins, Kylie and Jenna leading the offense from the guard position. Both have good size, can shoot the three, score at the rim and handle the ball against pressure. Peyton Nicklas is a third guard that is not as offensive minded but has the ability to shoot the three when called upon. And if the Falcons have the lead late, the trio can run the weave up top and hit key free throws if fouled.
There is more size on the inside with Macie Klem (5-10) and Emily Johnson (5-11). We also like Jillian Bauer at the point on defense and Courtney Krise can also provide a spark with energy off the bench. They are very deep to go along with top talent.
Flatirons Academy is the defending state champion and would probably like a rematch in the state finals. If you recall last year, the Bison fell to Briggsdale during the regular season then avenged the loss in the state semifinals. That scenario is again possible as Briggsdale beat the Bison 60-46 in Westminster back in December.
The Bison’s top three is as good as any team in the tournament as Kenlee Durrill, Emma Cox and Emily Dehaan led the team to the title a year ago. How well the supporting cast plays this weekend will determine if they lift the top trophy on Saturday night for a second straight year.
Now Flatirons did jump McClave for the number two seed and we’re not sure how that happened with the committee. RPI from the end of the regular season, which was used to seed districts and regionals, had McClave two spots higher than the Bison. They did not play head-to-head or they did not have common opponents to consider. Flatirons jumped ahead of Fleming in the seed because of head-to-head, but not sure the criteria allowed the Bison a move up to second.
Overall, it didn’t change the top half of the bracket very much as even if the seeds were flipped, they would remain together for a possible semifinal matchup. But it did change the back half; pushing Lone Star into a first round match with Briggsdale and Cheyenne Wells over to Flatirons. Had McClave stayed second, the seventh and eighth seeds would have been flipped from where they stand now.
McClave has had a very good season and is well deserving of their top three seed. Their one loss came against an out of state club (Elkhart KS) in the season opener so they’ll carry a 20-game winning streak into the tournament. They are also led by the senior tandem of Anna Beckett and Maggie Chase who have played heavy minutes since they started practice as freshman. There is a good supporting cast but the Cardinals will advance if Beckett and Chase play well.
Fleming is the fourth seed and has regrouped for two tough wins after being put on the brink of elimination with a district semifinal loss to Merino. The Wildcats bounced back to beat Haxtun the next night to reach the regionals and then survived a great effort from Idalia in the regional finals.
To say the Wildcats are battle tested is an understatement. They’ve played a strong schedule with losses to Flatirons Academy, Sedgwick County and Briggsdale before the setback to Merino in the post-season. Seniors Whitney Chintala and Zoe Vandenbark have both played a large number of tight postseason contests in basketball and volleyball and the same can be said for junior Kally Kirkwood. Chintala and Kirkwood are the main scoring threats but the Wildcats are much better when sophomore Madi Serrato is a threat on the offensive end.
Not surprised at all that Sangre De Cristo and Dove Creek are in the final eight. Think the T-Birds and Bulldogs have been under the radar all season and see them at the state tournament will be fun. Dove Creek had the higher RPI during the season but Sangre De Cristo got the higher seed based on a head-to-head win back in week one of the season. Sangre De Cristo edged the Bulldogs 40-39 in the finals of the T-Bird classic; that game a perfect example of how every game on the schedule, whether early or late, can impact where you are placed in the playoff bracket.
Sangre De Cristo will push Fleming in what could be a great quarterfinal. We mentioned the three scorers for Fleming and Sangre De Cristo can match with a trio of their own in Ashley Mortensen, Timberlynn Rogers and Peyton Metz. They average almost 33 points a game between them and they may need that or more to get by the Wildcats.
Dove Creek has won 19 straight since the loss to Sangre De Cristo. And that success could give them a very good chance to beat McClave in their state quarterfinal. Even though the Bulldogs are much younger than the Cardinals in key spots, they will have a nice advantage on the inside with Lexi Gray and Kylie Gatlin. Gray averages a double-double and Gatlin scores over ten points a game. Both are 5-10 or taller and that size will provide a tough matchup for the smaller Cardinals defense. To counter, McClave may try to speed up the game a bit with their full court pressure to get points off turnovers in the backcourt.
Glad to see both Lone Star and Cheyenne Wells get on the big stage. Lone Star is in the Great 8 for the first time in school history and the Tigers are in for the first time since 1971.
For Lone Star, Alivia Weathers has been one of the best players statewide and now her game can be seen by a statewide audience. She had a tremendous regional tournament in helping the Longhorns get past Elbert and Merino for their first ever appearance. The Longhorns though are much more than a one-girl team as there’s plenty of offense also coming from Alison Davis, Aleighcea Kuntz and Lamya Kuntz. Depth is a concern as they will dress just seven players in the tournament. And even though the Longhorns have lost twice to Briggsdale on the season, we give them a punchers chance for the upset as they have a win over Flatirons Academy very late in the season.
Regardless of how Cheyenne Wells fares against Flatirons Academy on Thursday and the rest of the field on Friday and Saturday, it’s already been a tremendous season for Cheyenne Wells. This is a program that won just one game last season but now has 17 victories and a state tournament appearance this season. First year coach Jason Muth has done an excellent job in getting this program pointed back in the right direction. He has a nice mix of senior leadership in Sydney Dickey and Erin Minto along with talented freshmen and sophomores Paige Ryster, Izzy Trevino-Lopez and Shaylee Scheler.
As we look at the entire bracket, we believe that any of the top four seeds can win the state championship with the lowest four seeds maybe struggling to put together three wins in three days against top flight competition.
But while the top four seeds each have enough talent to end up with the top trophy, each has also has a weakness that could prevent them from doing so.
Sanford will be the most fundamental team in the tournament as their ball-handling skills in spots one through five is always among the best in any class. But the Indians lack some size that will cause some interior mismatches against the other top challengers.
Holyoke is very big up front with a solid sister tandem at guard but the Dragons are also very thin on the bench as coach John Baumgartner often goes just one deep in reserves. As a result, foul trouble at key spots could diminish their championship hopes.
Limon has experience back from winning the championship last year but their strength is in the front court and could be challenged with some pressure in the backcourt. Outside shooting is also a concern but remember the Badgers won the state championship game last year without attempting a three pointer.
For Rye, they’ve been dominant throughout the season but that dominance could actually hurt them this weekend. They’ve note been challenged in the fourth quarter and despite having a veteran group, there is some concern on how they may react down by four with two minutes to play. It’s a situation they haven’t been in at any point this season.
The only head to head meeting of the top four was Holyoke’s 50-45 win over Limon on January 22nd. Should both clubs win on Thursday, the rematch will take place on Friday with a state finals berth on the line.
Sanford’s only loss is against 3A Great 8 member Colorado Springs Christian in mid-December. That was game five so the Indians have reeled off 19 consecutive wins since. Many players contribute for the Indians but the top two are seniors Asia Caldon and Cheyenne Caldon who combine for 25 points a game. Asia runs the point and will be one of the best guards in the tournament.
Holyoke’s first option is on the inside with Kristin Vieselmeyer. The 6-2 senior scores nearly 20 points a game with 11 rebounds and will be the focus of every opponent at state. But Lauren Herman is another threat as she can score on the inside but also knock down the three. Elyce and Audrey Talavera are sisters at the guard spots and they focus on ball-handling and defense but can also shoot from the perimeter. And don’t sleep on Elise Krogmeier. She won’t get a ton of press but is one of the most improved players from December to March and will score a big bucket with rebounds in almost every game.
Limon features returning player of the year in Trista Marx. She’s asked to do quite a bit as she can score in the post but can also bring the ball up against pressure. She may also guard the opponents top inside threat.
Other contributors are Jentri Marx, Jordynn Tacha and Katelyn Tacha. They will make outrebounding the Badgers a difficult job. Brynln Owens is probably the top outside shooter.
One more week of basketball for the Adamson twins at Rye. Since Sydney and Sophie arrived at the high school four years, the Thunderbolts have won 84 games and lost just six. They lost to Wray in the semifinals last year and were bounced by Sanford in the quarterfinals back in 2020 when the tournament was cancelled later in the day. Rye did not make the tournament when they were freshman but still won 21 of 24 games.
Career numbers are huge for both players. Sophie needs 65 points to reach 13-hundred and Sydney is 51 points shy of 12-hundred. Sophie has added 514 rebounds, 342 assists and 221 steals over four years with Sydney at 374 boards, 239 assists and 253 thefts.
There is much more to Rye than the Adamson twins as Jordan Holgerson-Rahl, Morgan Elarton and Gracie Graham are all content with producing the dirty work of rebounds, defense and screening. But to win the state championship on Saturday, the Thunderbolts will likely need some offensive production at critical times from one, two or all three of them.
Cedaredge, Peyton, Dayspring Christian and Wiggins will all be underdogs in the state quarterfinals but each will be a tough out. Of that group, we feel Wiggins may have the best chance at a quarterfinal upset even though they face the highest seed team in the bracket.
The reason is competition as the Tigers have competed all season in a rugged Lower Platte league that had seven teams in the sweet 16. Six of them made it that far in the 2A bracket and Merino was also one win away from making the state quarterfinals in Class 1A. Because of all those games, the Tigers won’t be intimidated by Sanford and they have momentum from a road win at #4 Soroco last Saturday. Plus many of the players are familiar with state tournament pressure; having led the Tigers to a state volleyball crown two years and a final four appearance there last season.
Wiggins features two double digit scorers in Rachael White and Raelyn Koenig who combine for 25 points a game and 70 three-pointers on the season. Youthful energy and scoring comes from the freshman tandem of Riley Hunt and Kennedy Kerr.
Peyton will also be a tough out for Limon as the Panthers have gotten better as they’ve gotten healthier. In fact, they’re unbeaten in 2022 with 16 straight wins since a loss to top seeded Sanford (61-37) way back on December 17th. Some consider their win over Sedgwick County last Saturday an upset but in our mind, that game was a toss-up going in.
The Panthers are very young as the sophomore tandem of AJ Mannering and Abbie Nickel combine for over 30 points per game. Freshman Jaycee Yonkers is third in scoring with nearly eight points a game. Regardless of how they fare this weekend, state tournament experience from this year will make them a title contender over the next couple of years.
Cedaredge and Dayspring Christian both lost to quarterfinal matchups during the regular season. Ironically, both losses came on December with Cedaredge falling to Rye 59-26 and Dayspring Christian to Holyoke 49-22. Those margins lead us to believe it will be difficult for the Bruins and Eagles to spring the upset but anything can happen in a state tournament.
Dayspring has won six straight. Corrin Sides and Aliya McClanahan get many good looks on the offensive side but rebounding will be the key in the rematch with Holyoke. The Dragons won that battle 38-22 in the first meeting.
Cedaredge has three players scoring at least eight points a game in Paige McGovern, Megan Gastineau and Megan Jenkins. All three are seniors so you know the Bruins will put out a great effort in every game as a loss ends their last chance at a state title. In game one with Rye, they were outscored 20-2 in the first quarter so a fast start is a must.