An early season clash of heavyweights along with at least four other excellent contests headline week one of the girls’ basketball season in Classes 1A and 2A.  The game gaining the most attention is the Friday meeting between Yuma and Wray but pairings of Fleming-Haxtun, North Park-Genoa Hugo, Sierra Grande-South Baca and Salida-Del Norte are also attractive.
Incredibly, Yuma and Wray have matched up 12 times in the past three years so Friday’s meeting will the 13th between county rivals since the start of the 2015-16 season.  Yuma swept all three matchups on their way to the state title last season while Wray won three of five battles in 2016-17 as they reached the state championship game.  In 2015-16, Yuma grabbed wins in all four meetings so they’ve captured nine of the previous 12 contests.
Friday’s game features three returning all-state players in Cody Robinson and Chasey Blach of Yuma and Wray’s Morgan Smith.  Robinson and Blach were named to the first team after leading the Indians to the title and Smith earned second team honors.  All three enter their final seasons on the high school level.
Robinson and Blach both averaged 14 points per game last season with Blach grabbing 11 rebounds and Robinson collecting five ‘boards, three assists and three steals per game.  Smith provided 13 points, eight rebounds and three steals as the Eagles once again reached the state tournament before an upset loss to Clear Creek in the semifinals ended their run.
Yuma is ranked #1 in the preseason with Wray #3.  The game is the first of two regular season contests and this one will serve as a non-conference contest.  The Lower Platte meeting is set for January 11th in Yuma.
Holyoke will watch the outcome with interest as the Dragons will face both the Indians and Eagles as part of the Lower Platte schedule.  The Dragons, who are ranked 6th in the pre-season, open at the Highland Tournament where they meet Liberty Common in the opener.  A win on Friday gives them a likely Saturday date with the host Huskies and both games will serve as very good tests for the Dragons.
Taeryn Trumper is back to lead a Dragons’ roster that includes only one senior this year.  She averaged 13 points a game last year and that number could increase due to the graduation of Grace Dille who scored 13 points and pulled down 15 rebounds per game a year ago.  Other key returnees for Holyoke include Victoria Race, Kaylee Camblin, Sara Razo and Savannah Burris.  Back from injury is point guard Emily Jelden (6 assists) who was limited to just 10 games last year.
Liberty Common lost quite a bit of talent from last year’s 13-win club.  The top returnee is Jaycie Verderaime who averaged five points and three rebounds a game as a freshman.
Highland (18-5) is ranked 9th to open the season and is similar to Holyoke in that they must replace a nice inside presence in Maison Tolle who averaged 14 points and seven rebounds as a senior last season.  But otherwise, the roster is in good shape as Laramie Woods (11pts / 5 rebs), Lauren Frink (9pts) and Olivia Himmel (6pts/9rebs) all return.
Del Norte is ranked 4th in Class 2A but the Tigers have a tough date at home against Salida on Friday.  It’s not their season opener as the Tigers also battle Monte Vista the night before.
Expectations are very high for Del Norte as they return the combination of Kendra Parra and Lacie Jones.  Parra earned all-state honors as a sophomore after scoring 20 points a game with four assists and four steals.  She also dropped in 42 three-pointers.  Jones is a strong contributor on the inside with 10 points and nine rebounds a game last year.  Emily Gallegos, Kamrynn Pacheco and Kiela Madrid all return after averaging five points a game a year ago as does Sophia McConnell (4pts / 3 steals).
Salida (13-12) is also expecting a solid season as they return their top nine scorers from a year ago.  All nine are seniors this year so the Spartans hope to make a strong push on the 3A level.  Alejandra Godina led the Spartans in both scoring (11) and rebounding (5) a year ago.  She’s joined in the lineup by Bailey Golden and Kyler Weaver who combined for 15 points and seven rebounds as juniors.
A couple of other interesting games on the 2A level involve Centauri (3A) at Sargent on Thursday and Calhan at Simla on Saturday.
Simla is ranked 8th and despite the loss of four-year starter Jerraldawn Rector, is still favored to land the Black Forest title.  Kegan Hamacher and Kaitlyn Rector each averaged nine points last year and will lead a roster that includes three others who scored at least four points per game.  Calhan won 17 games last season but must replace Brittany Fuchs and Sierra Knox who averaged 23 points between them.  Bailee Carter is the top returnee after totaling 10 points and nine rebounds per game.
Sargent was a game below five hundred last season (11-12) but we expect the win total to increase as they return 10 of their top 12 scorers.  Lanie Dillon returns for her senior season after averaging 11 points per game.  She was the lone double figure scorer for a deep club that also returns McKenzie Tolliver who finished her freshman season with six points and four rebounds per game.
Centauri (21-3) is coming off four straight state tournament appearances but lost three of their top four scorers to graduation.  Melissa Wilson, with nine points per game, is the top returnee along with Mia Garcia at five points and three rebounds a game.
The week one battle between Fleming and Haxtun could serve as a preview of a state tournament game as both clubs have expectations of reaching Greeley in March.  The Wildcats are ranked second and Haxtun fifth in the pre-season.
Fleming was in the state finals two years ago and made it to the semifinals last year but eventual champion Kit Carson ended their run both seasons.  Jenna Lengfelder and Kendyl Kirkwood both return after averaging 11 points per game a year ago and the Wildcats could also see a boost from incoming freshman Whitney Chintala.  Depth could be an issue again as the Wildcats had just nine players on the roster last season and that number could be the same this season.
Haxtun enters their first season on the 1A level and will rely heavily on Player of the Year candidate Dawson Knode.  She averaged 12 points, seven rebounds and three steals per game as a junior and can be used at several different positions.  Over her four-year career, Knode has lined up at the point guard, the off guard and number three spot and has the size to battle on the inside.  Other key returnees include Molly Brown and McKenna Anderson who both scored seven points a game and Brooklyn Davis who chipped in five points and five rebounds last season.
North Park and Genoa Hugo won’t gain as much attention but their first round battle at the Jeff Sherman Memorial Tournament in Woodlin could be a good one.  North Park is ranked fourth and has plenty of momentum from a strong showing at last year’s state tournament while Genoa Hugo won 11 games last year despite a very young roster.
North Park returns the tandem of Kayla Jenkins and Devynn Johnson who combined for 26 points a game last year.  The Wildcats also return four other players who scored at least four points per game.  They have good depth and the aforementioned experience from the state tournament.
Genoa Hugo welcomes back Ryely Smart who averaged nearly 15 points and nine rebounds a game a year ago.
Two other games of note on the 1A level include Sierra Grande-South Baca and Briggsdale-Union Colony Prep (2A).
Sierra Grande and South Park collide as part of the Ballard Tournament in Springfield.  The Panthers won 15 games last season and the Patriots 14 and both return a good list of talent.  Sierra Grande returns Abby Corona who scored 13 points a game to go with four rebounds, four assists and four steals per game, but they also lost Randi Espinosa who will play at Centennial this year.  South Baca played mainly freshmen and sophomores last season so their entire unit is back including double digit scorers Delaney Eskew (12) and Alissa Hebberd (11).  Four others who averaged between 5-8 points per game also return and that helped the Patriots earn a #8 ranking in Class 1A.
Briggsdale (21-4) is not ranked to start the season and the Falcons must replace their top five scorers from last year but we expect the Falcons to be very competitive again this year.  Kimberlyn Krise averaged four points and four rebounds per game and those numbers will increase this year.  The Falcons also welcome in Shelby Hoffman who averaged 18 points a game for Pawnee last year.  The Coyotes will not field a team this year so Hoffman will move to the Falcons.  A talented freshman class could also see some heavy minutes.
Union Colony captured just six wins in 2016-17 but could be improved with the return of Mayson Fago.  She averaged 11 points a game for the Wolves a year ago.