Playoff positioning: Fruita girls want to finish strong to get higher seed

Dan Schmalz and his Fruita Monument girls basketball team have a chance to host a first-round playoff game, providing the Wildcats win three of their final four games, starting Friday against Central.

With only two weeks remaining in high school basketball’s regular season, crunch time has officially begun.

The Fruita Monument High School girls basketball team is well aware of what it has to do. The Wildcats have four games remaining and can control their destiny when it comes to postseason play.

The Wildcats (9-10, 3-4 Southwestern League) begin their final four games Friday at Central.

“If you lose the next four or three out of four, then you are playing one of those teams that’s just on the border of getting a first-round bye,” Fruita Monument coach Dan Schmalz said. “But if we win three or play really well and get four, we can probably get a home game, which would be huge for Fruita.”

This position isn’t unusual to Schmalz, in his third year with the Wildcats. Fruita Monument made the postseason in Schmalz’s first season with a 7-15 record, and got the No. 12 seed in the Class 5A playoffs.

The Wildcats lost 63-33 in the first round to Columbine.

Last season, the Wildcats improved both their total wins and seeding, but not by much, finishing at 8-13 and earning a No. 11 seed. Fruita played well in its playoff game, losing 60-50 to Cherry Creek.

“I think these girls expect to make the playoffs this year,” Schmalz said. “The first year we were just lucky to get in. Last year we expected it but didn’t get a real high seed because we were inconsistent.”

Although the Wildcats have struggled with consistency again this season, Fruita is looking to get things on track at the right time. The Wildcats realize a strong finish can not only get the school’s first 10-win season in six years, but also give them an outside chance at hosting a first-round game.

“The first 16 teams get a bye, and the next 16 get a home playoff game,” Fruita Monument guard Sarah Hensley said. “That’s one of our goals, is to get a home playoff game.”

It won’t be easy for the Wildcats, who face playoff-bound teams the rest of the way, but the good news is Fruita Monument has its final three games at home against Westminster, Grand Junction and Montrose.

“It’ll be good to have a home-court advantage,” Hensley said. “We will have the crowd’s energy, and it gets us really pumped.”

Hensley’s offense will be important for the Wildcats down the stretch.

She has a lot of range and has scored in double figures 13 times this season.

But she’s also struggled lately, scoring three points last weekend against Durango on 1-of-12 shooting. Hensley realizes there are only a few games remaining in her high school career, and she’s looking to make the most of them.

“It’s weird knowing I only have a matter of games left,” Hensley said. “It motivates all of us seniors, knowing that we only have a few left, and we want to get these home wins.”

If the Wildcats are playing well, Hensley doesn’t have to shoulder the offensive load. Junior Taylor Johnson is averaging 12.6 points per game this season, and had a season-high 24 in a 51-42 win at Montrose.

Fruita Monument is one of the deepest teams around, regularly playing 10 players. Schmalz said it’s important to get everyone clicking as soon as possible.

“We’ve had a lot of individuals (play well),” Schmalz said. “Sarah’s been great in a few games, Taylor’s been great in a few games, and Stephanie (Long) has done a good job. But I would love it if we could put it all together for one game.”


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