DENVER – Juliana Garcia was a freshman in 2020 when The Vanguard’s girls basketball team reached the Class 3A Great 8 only to be eliminated by No. 1 St. Mary’s.

In both of the following seasons, the Coursers made it all the way to the Final 4 in Garcia’s sophomore year but couldn’t break through into the title game. They made it back to the semifinals in 2022 and Garcia tore her ACL in the Final 4, where the Coursers’ season ended once again.

On Friday at the University of Denver’s Hamilton Gymnasium, Garcia, now a senior, and the Coursers finally broke through.

Playing in its third straight Final 4, the fifth-seeded Coursers (21-5) put together a dominant 59-36 victory over No. 9 Ellicott (20-6) and will play for a state title on Saturday at 4 p.m.

“The past two years, we’ve just kind of gotten stuck in the Final 4 for whatever reason,” Garcia said. “I think this year, we just really wanted to take it. We’ve got an amazing opportunity in front of us and now we’ve just got to take it. Especially because my sister also tore her ACL her junior year, just fighting through that and still playing to honor her is important for me.

“She graduated two years ago and when we played together, getting to the state championship was always the dream. She’s actually visiting from college today, so it’s just awesome and I want to make her proud. The team and I have wanted this for so many years and this year, we’re not going to let it slip from our hands.”

The Coursers led 32-14 at halftime with Jordyn Christensen scoring eight first-half points. She finished with 10 and Elysia Bottcher scored nine. Senior Hailey Blanchard led the Coursers with 13 points.

“They played well,” Coursers coach Scott Arrasmith said. “We’ve tried to work all year on being in shape and playing hard, trying to get through a couple games at a time. The biggest thing for us is playing good defense and making adjustments as the game goes on.”

Alyssa Lagasse led Ellicott with a game-high 16 points.


(3) Colorado Springs Christian 33, (7) St. Mary’s 29

(Brad Cochi)

Friday’s 3A Final 4 rematch between the No. 3 Colorado Springs Christian and No. 7 St. Mary’s girls basketball teams just kind of felt like a game that would be decided by whichever team played the best defense down the stretch.

That team was Colorado Springs Christian.

In the Tri-Peaks League rivals’ third time facing one another this season, the CSCS Lions (24-2) locked down in the Pirates (20-5) and allowed zero points in the fourth quarter to emerge from a late tie and win, 33-29, at the University of Denver’s Hamilton Gymnasium. The victory propelled the Lions into the championship match and positioned them to potentially capture their first title since 2002.

“It was just a grind, and I love our grit and our toughness,” Lions coach Mark Engesser said. “We talked before the game about how it was going to be about perseverance, it’s going to be ugly and hard. You play a team a third time and it’s just so much harder than those first two because you know each other so well. It was just a defensive battle and we just kept fighting.”

The Lions won a pair of Tri-Peaks League contests during the regular season by an average of 20.5 points. Friday’s game was tied 29-29 with 2 minutes, 45 seconds left.

In the remaining few minutes, the Lions held the Pirates without a basket while going 4 for 8 at the free-throw line to gain the edge they needed to win. Freshman Kinley Asp sealed the win by hitting a pair of free throws to put the Lions up 33-29 with 4.3 seconds left.

“It was terrifying,” Lions sophomore Abigail Perry said. “It was crazy, but we pulled through and we gave it your all. We had nothing to lose. We just stuck to our person and just gave it everything.”

Grace Minihane led the Lions with 13 points, Perry scored 10 points and Asp finished with five.

Maeve Salveson led the Pirates with 13 points and Emerson Kutz scored 11 points.

The Lions will face The Vanguard in Saturday’s title game.