Tigers find optimism in loss to top seed
HIGHLANDS RANCH — It was a learning experience, though painful.
The season came to a screeching halt for the Grand Junction High School girls basketball team on Wednesday, yet the Tigers endured the thumping with a hint of optimism.
Despite losing 65-34 at Highlands Ranch in the third round of the Class 5A tournament, the Tigers embarked on the long journey home after geting a good glimpse of one of the state’s elite programs.
With nine of Grand Junction’s top 12 players on track to return next season, coach Sam Provenza has reason to believe his club will close ground on teams like Highlands Ranch by the time the 2011 postseason rolls around.
“We talked about how in order to know how to be that good, you have to play someone that good,” Provenza said. “Our kids have that in their minds and they want to be as good as anybody in the state of Colorado. When you play somebody that is the No. 1 team in the state, you come away saying, ‘Hey, that is how we have to play.’ “
After recording state tournament victories against Boulder and Aurora Central, the Tigers finished the season with a 15-11 record and the confidence to believe even bigger things could be in store next season.
Four of the five starters Provenza used against the top-seeded Falcons on Wednesday were underclassmen, as were the first three players off the bench.
Included in that group are the Tigers’ top three scorers from this season — sophomore Jamie Derrieux, who led Grand Junction with 13 points against Highlands Ranch, junior Fawn Brady and junior Paula Lage.
“It definitely sets a good tone for next year,” Derrieux said. “We know we have to work really hard this offseason to get back to this point next year and go even further.
“We’re glad we got to play (Highlands Ranch) and I think we played with a lot of heart. We realize what kind of competition we’ll face if we want to play at that top level.”
Fifth-seeded Grand Junction trailed 16-6 after the first quarter against Highlands Ranch, and any chance the Tigers had to crawl back into the contest ultimately was erased by the Falcons’ superior depth and athleticism inside.
The Tigers remained within eight points midway through the second quarter, but the Falcons scored seven consecutive points and ended the half with a 12-3 run to take a 33-16 lead at the break.
Derrieux also finished with a team-leading seven rebounds for the Tigers and Lage added 10 points.
“That is a real athletic team inside,” Provenza said. “We’ve kind of struggled with our inside game all season long. We’ve got some good, athletic kids that play along the perimeter and our inside is getting better.
“It’s hard not to smile knowing what we’re going to have coming back.”