Jim Benton [email protected]
To win a girls’ state basketball championship, a team must take a first step and advance to the last four.
On March 4 at the Denver Coliseum, defending champion and top-ranked Valor Christian, second-ranked Highlands Ranch, third-ranked Grandview, and fifth-ranked Arapahoe won in the Great Eight and potted a ticket to the Class 5A Final Four.
On March 10th, Valor Christian (21-4) will play Arapahoe (18-7) and Highlands Ranch (21-4) will challenge Grandview (18-9) at the Coliseum.
Winners of the last four competitions will advance to the 5A State Championships on March 12 at the Coliseum.
While Arapahoe is new to the semifinals, Valor Christian, Highlands Ranch and Grandview are familiar with this round of competition.
“We hit the Sweet 16 I don’t know how many times,” said Arapahoe coach Jerry Knafelc. “Getting to that level and going beyond that is tough. It’s great for our program. We’ve been on the fringes before and every win we get at this point belongs to everyone who’s played in the program over the past 12 years.
“We stand on the shoulders of giants. These are the giants who had to keep climbing the ladder. I don’t take anything away from my girls. This is a special group of young ladies. We’re pretty battle-hardened and we’ve had a tough schedule. It pays off when you get involved in games like this.”
Valor is making his third straight appearance in the 5A Final Four, finishing sixth overall in the state semifinals.
“That sounds familiar to me,” said Valor coach Jessika Caldwell. “It’s a nice intimacy. It doesn’t happen all the time. It’s something in our program that we always strive for excellence.”
Arapahoe will provide Valor with a familiar opponent, although the teams will not be competing this season. Last season, after Valor’s gym was flooded, the Warriors offered to help.
“We came out of a gym,” Caldwell explained. “They helped us in a no-gym situation and that brought us closer together. I look forward to being able to compete with them and just get going and have fun.”
This will be the seventh straight season Grandview has reached the Final Four and Highlands Ranch under coach Caryn Jarocki will make their 16th appearance.
“Knowing that the Final Four is something of a date for us every year, all we know is that we have to work hard for it,” said Alex Pirog, the team’s senior power forward. “It’s really something special to get there every year and we aim to surpass that this year. It’s a tough game, but we’ll work hard and be ready.”
Grandview is led by 6-foot-7 senior Lauren Betts.
“We have four days to prepare, which is helpful,” Jarocki said. “But their bigs are a big problem. We have to play really well.”
Game of the Big Eight
In the Great Eight games, Arapahoe defeated Fossil Ridge 53-46 and Grandview defeated District and Centennial League rivals Cherry Creek 70-38. Highlands Ranch found their decisive touch in the second half, beating Doherty 54-39, and Valor prevailed late for a 54-44 win over Chaparral.
Clutch free throw shooting by freshman Gianna Smith helped the Warriors fend off Fossil Ridge.
The Sabercats drew 1:29 to 48-46, but Smith sunk two free throws to put the Warriors four points ahead with 63 seconds left. Smith hit all six of her free throws, finishing with 15 points.
Sydney White had 12 points for Arapahoe, who had a 42-23 rebound advantage over the Sabercats, who only grabbed 28.3 percent of the field.
Senior guard Marys Hudgins had 21 points while Betts had a double-double of 16 points and 16 rebounds in Grandview’s easy win over Cherry Creek.
Creek made just 25.5% of his field goal attempts and was led by freshman A’Neya Chambers with 13 points.
“Grandview played really well,” said Bruins coach Clint Evans. “We knew we had to shoot the ball well against them. They drove into a zone and we didn’t shoot well.”
Highlands Ranch capitalized on an 18-6 run to open the fourth quarter and rebounded better in its win over Doherty.
Pirog had 17 points and 11 rebounds for the Falcons. Emily Hovasse had 16 points while Katie Johanning and Ezra Simonich shot three points, helping Highlands Ranch score 59.1 percent in the second half after a 15.4 percent performance in the first two quarters.
Johanning had nine points and Simonich eight.
Coach Tony Speights’ Chaparral team gave Valor all they could handle, but the Eagles withdrew late in the game to claim the win.
Raegan Beers, Valor’s 6-foot-3 McDonald’s All-American senior, had a double double with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Senior Macey Huard had 15 points, including 13 in the second half.
Sophomore forward Reagan Lentell passed Chap with 16 points while Peyton Bang added 11 points.
In the girls’ Class 3A state playoffs, Lutheran won a regional first round game against Manitou Springs, 64-28. St. Mary’s downed SkyView Academy, 77-68. In a Sweet 16 contest, St. Mary’s ousted Lutheran, 63-53