To win a girl’s state basketball championship, a team must take a preliminary step and advance into the final four.
On March 4, at the Denver Coliseum, defending state champion and top-seeded Valor Christian, second seeded Highlands Ranch, third seeded Grandview and fifth seeded Arapahoe won in the Great Eight, punching a ticket to the Class 5A Final Four.
On March 10, Valor Christian (21-4) will play Arapahoe (18-7) played and Highlands Ranch (21-4) will challenge Grandview (18-9) at the Coliseum.
The winners from the final four contest will advance to the 5A state championships on March 12 at the Coliseum.
While Arapahoe is new to the semi-finals round, Valor Christian, Highlands Ranch and Grandview are familiar with this round of competition.
“We’ve got to the Sweet 16, I don’t know how many times,” said Arapahoe Coach Jerry Knafelc. “Getting to this level and getting beyond it is tough. It is great for our program. We’ve been on the edge before and any win we get at this point belongs to everybody in the last 12 years that has played in the program.
“We’re on the shoulders of giants. Those are the giants that had to keep climbing the ladder. I’m not taking anything away from my girls. This is a special group of young ladies. We’re pretty battle tested and had a tough schedule. That pays off when you get into games like this.”
Valor is making its third consecutive 5A Final Four appearance and sixth overall in the state semifinals,
“It is familiar,” said Valor Coach Jessika Caldwell. “It’s a beautiful familiarity. It doesn’t happen all the time. It’s something in our program that we always strive for excellence.”
Arapahoe will provide a familiar opponent for Valor, although the teams have not each other this season. Last season, after Valor’s gymnasium was flooded, the Warriors offered assistance.
“We were out of a gym,” explained Caldwell. “They helped us in a gym-less situation and that has brought us close together. I’m excited to be able to matchup with them and just go at it and have some fun.”
This will be the seventh straight season that Grandview has made the Final Four and Highlands Ranch, under coach Caryn Jarocki, will be making its 16th appearance.
“Knowing that the Final Four is kind of a slot for us each year, we just know we kind of have to work hard for it,” said Alex Pirog, the team’s senior power forward. “It is really special to get there each year and we want to push past that this year. We have a tough game, but we’ll put in the work and be ready to go.”
Grandview is led by 6-foot-7 Senior Lauren Betts.
“We have four days to prepare which is helpful,” said Jarocki. “But their bigs are a huge concern. We’ll have to play really well.”
Great Eight play
In the Great Eight games, Arapahoe toppled Fossil Ridge, 53-46, and Grandview crushed district and Centennial League rival Cherry Creek, 70-38. Highlands Ranch found its shooting touch in the second half and beat Doherty, 54-39, and Valor pulled away late for a 54-44 win over Chaparral.
Clutch free throw shooting by freshman Gianna Smith helped the Warriors hold off Fossil Ridge.
The Sabercats pulled to within 48-46 with 1:29 left, but Smith sank two free throws to push the Warriors ahead by four points with 63 seconds remaining. Smith hit all six of her free throws and finished with 15 points.
Sydney White had 12 points for Arapahoe, which held a 42-23 rebounding edge over the Sabercats which hit only 28.3 percent from the field.
Senior guard Marys Hudgins scored 21 points while Betts had a double-double of 16 points and 16 rebounds in Grandview’s easy win over cold shooting Cherry Creek.
Creek made only 25.5% of its 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 went into a zone and we didn’t shoot well.”
Highlands Ranch capitalized on an 18-6 run to open the fourth quarter and started to rebound better in its win over Doherty.
Pirog had 17 points to go along with 11 rebounds for the Falcons. Emily Hovasse had 16 points while Katie Johanning and Ezra Simonich drained three-point shots which helped Highlands Ranch shoot 59.1 percent in the second half after a 15.4 percent performance in the first two quarters.
Johanning had nine points and Simonich eigth.
Coach Tony Speights’ Chaparral team gave Valor all it could handle but the Eagles pulled away late in the game for the victory.
Raegan Beers, Valor’s 6-foot-3 senior McDonald’s All-American, had a double double with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Senior Macey Huard had 15 points with 13 coming in the second half.
Sophomore forward Reagan Lentell paced Chap with 16 points while Peyton Bang added 11 points.
In the Class 3A girls state playoffs, Lutheran won a regional first round game over Manitou Springs, 64-28. St. Mary’s downed SkyView Academy, 77-68. In a Sweet 16 contest, St. Mary’s ousted Lutheran, 63-53
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