DENVER – Throughout the season, Valor Christian was not perceived as the dominant girls basketball program in the state. Perception is often different than reality.

The Eagles played great playoff basketball down the stretch, first beating Class 6A No. 1 seed Cherokee Trail, then putting together a dominant performance to win the 6A title with a 57-44 win over Regis Jesuit at the Denver Coliseum.

This is the fourth state championship for the Eagles and their first in the 6A classification since it was added two years ago.

But in an odd way, this one flew under the radar.

“I think we were the most underrated [team],” Quinn VanSickle said. “No one expected much from us but throughout the season, we were so consistent. Once we got going and our whole team played as a team and our pieces came together that we would be unstoppable.”

The Eagles (23-4 overall) put the full strength of their defense on display early, pressuring the Raiders and making them feel uncomfortable offensively. The Raiders (20-8) started the game 0-for-11 from and scored just seven points the entire first half.

Just for reference, Valor’s Quinn VanSickle was 9-for-9 from the free throw in the first three quarters of the game. She didn’t have the best day shooting from the field, but allowed the game to come to her and got her points when she needed them. She finished with a team-high 22 points.

And she had great help surrounding her. Camryn Gunter scored 13 and Peyton Jones added 10, giving the Eagles a balanced offensive attack.

The Raiders found more offensive rhythm in the second half and even outscored the Eagles 20-16 in the third quarter. Hana Belibi scored a game-high 26 points but was the only Regis player to score in double figures.

Of Valor’s four regular season losses, one was a 78-72 loss at the hands of the Raiders. But it was clear not just to Caldwell, but her team as a whole, that this unit had developed and unified since that Dec. 12 meeting.

(Doug Ottewill/

“In that late December period and into January, we had lost to Grandview as well,” coach Jessika Caldwell said. “We’re scoring at a great clip, we’re putting up 70 points, but we’re losing. What do we need to do? So we made a commitment to defense.”

And that commitment showed in the title game, but even with a big lead, the Eagles were weary of the Raiders after watching the way they went on a 20-0 run to beat Legend in the semifinals on Thursday.

But they got key baskets like a VanSickle 3-pointer with 4:33 left or a fast break layup after breaking the Raiders press in the final two minutes.

“They showed such great grit,” Caldwell said. “Regis played hard to the last whistle. They put us on our heels a little bit with that pressure.”

Regis had certainly picked up its urgency, but a strong first half from the Eagles kept the game out of reach.

When the buzzer sounded, the emotions were let loose, especially for Caldwell. She faced some family tragedy in June when her dad, Randy Stratton, passed away.

“He’s why I got into coaching,” Caldwell said. “He’s why I came to Valor.”

He was a strong reminder as to why basketball provides such a strong sense of family for her and how that feeling has grown in her time with the Eagles. Seeing them battle through the playoffs to win a state title isn’t just a reminder of how much she enjoys what she does, but why she does it in the first place.

(Doug Ottewill/