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The girls basketball program at Cherokee Trail was just .500 at this point last season.
A year ago, the Cougars would finish with just 10 wins en route to a second-round exit in the state playoffs. Now, though, they head into league play ranked second in Class 6A at 12-1.
The reason for improvement? Somewhat simple.
Turnovers are down. Offensive efficiency is up.
Players like sophomore Delainey Miller, meanwhile, are having more productive seasons, averaging 10 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. Her field goal and free throw percentage are both up, too.
In this week’s look at the sport, we focus on some surprise teams across the big school classifications.
No. 9 Eaglecrest (10-3): The Raptors are a program reaping the rewards of maturity.
Eaglecrest, which finished 12-12 and fell in the first round of the postseason last year, brought back its top four scorers this winter, propelling a scoring average of 37.1 PPG to 44.6.
Senior Nia McKenzie’s production is up across the board. She is averaging 16.3 points and 7.4 boards in 13 games.
The Raptors are home against Overland Friday. They face an improved Cherokee Trail team on Jan. 25.
No. 5 Centaurus (10-1): The Warriors have nice size in their frontcourt and a standout in guard Laura Gensert leading from the back.
Alexa Lorton, at 6-foot-2, is averaging eight points on 55% shooting to go along with 5.4 boards. Sam Sterritt, at 5-11, is at 7.4 and 5.3.
Gensert, who crossed 1,000 points in a career last week, meanwhile, is averaging 14.7 PPG. It is her fourth straight season averaging more than 13 PPG.
Centaurus, 6-7 at this point last winter, had its 10-game winning streak snapped against 4A No. 1 Holy Family last week.
The Warriors were supposed to face 5A No. 1 Mead Wednesday, but the game was canceled due to weather. They’re on the road at No. 7 Windsor Friday.
No. 8 Palmer Ridge (11-2): The Bears, who finished 15-10 with a round-two exit from the postseason a year ago, are among the classification’s best teams because — well, defense.
Palmer Ridge is allowing just 38 ½ points through 13 games this season.
In a 35-29 win over Pueblo County Saturday, it held the Hornets to 31% shooting from the field. The game before, in a 56-33 win over Discovery Canyon, the Thunder shot just 25%.
Natali Volk leads the team with 11.9 points and 9.6 boards per game.
The Bears are home against Lewis-Palmer Friday, then are at Air Academy Tuesday.
No. 5 Riverdale Ridge (10-1): The Ravens finished last season 9-16, though everything has changed inside the program with the emergence of Colorado’s next basketball phenom, freshman Brihanna Crittendon.
Crittendon is the 13th-ranked scorer in the nation at 30.2 points per game. She is also averaging 9 ½ rebounds and nearly two blocks.
Riverdale Ridge has opened play in the 5A/4A Longs Peak League with six straight wins. Crittendon had 30 points on 67% shooting in 29 minutes in the latest, a 70-33 win over Mountain View.
The Ravens are home against Northridge Thursday.
No. 9 Alamosa (9-3): The Mean Moose were a fringe team in the postseason a year ago. But the way they’re currently playing, that doesn’t seem like it’ll be the case this winter.
Alamosa has five girls averaging at least five points per game. Emily Melgoza, a sophomore, was averaging six points and six rebounds through 11 games.
The Mean Moose recorded their largest win of the season Saturday against Montezuma-Cortez, 74-30. It was their 19th straight win over the Panthers dating back to 2015. The team is also playing with a heavy heart after the unexpected death of coach and athletic director Erik Melgoza.
Alamosa is at Pagosa Springs Friday, then at Centauri Saturday.