Catch me if you can
Run-and-gun Wildcats face like-minded foe in Arapahoe
Both teams like to press on defense, force turnovers, score in transition, speed up the tempo and tell their opponent: Catch me if you can.
Neither got caught much this year, which is why Fruita Monument (18-6) and Arapahoe (22-2) are facing each other at 7 tonight in Centennial in the Sweet 16 of the Class 5A girls basketball state tournament.
The suggestion that the teams are strikingly similar was met with a pause by first-year Fruita Monument coach Richard Atkins and the acknowledgement: “Maybe in theory.”
“They do what we are trying to get done here,” added Atkins, who switched the Wildcats from a half-court team to one that presses the full court and relishes the fast break. “We tried to take our athleticism and step it up a notch and say, ‘Let’s just see how good we can be?’ We’re not trying to play conservative basketball. We’re more like a gambling philosophy.”
That still sounds an awful lot like Arapahoe, but the distinction to make, Atkins said, is the Warriors have twice as many seniors, they appear to be quicker overall than the Wildcats, and they strike an absurd balance in their scoring. No one averages double figures for points per game, while five players average 6.8 points or more.
“There’s no one person they have to go to,” Atkins said. “It’s just whoever’s open appears to shoot the basketball.”
Those seniors, that quickness and that balance are going to force the Wildcats to back off a bit with their pressure.
“When you play a good team like this with seniors, they’re all experienced players, and they’ve been down this road before ... I feel confident they know how to handle pressure,” Atkins said. “If you press people who are better than you and quicker than you are, that might not be the wisest thing to do.
“So, we might play more half-court-type pressure, so we don’t expose ourselves all over the floor. Because if you have that many kids that can score … there’s not a lot of deficiencies that show up when you start pressing like that.”
Wildcats senior guard Eden Laase said her teammates know they must adjust.
“I think we have to drop back and kind of rely on our help side and get rebounds to help us out,” she said.
Arapahoe coach Jerry Knafelc acknowledged Atkins had a pretty good scouting report about his team, which is the No. 1 seed in the region and was ranked No. 4 in Class 5A in the most recent state poll. The Warriors, indeed, can handle pressure. “I’m blessed to have really talented players, and lots of them,” he said.
But he expects Fruita will make his team earn everything it gets. Knafelc did his homework, too, as he rattled off the names Lauren LaBonde, Sam Parks, Eden Laase, Kassidy Fair and Vanessa Herrera as good players for the Wildcats.
He commended Fruita’s defense, the pressure it applies and the turnovers it forces leading to offense.
Then, he added, “LaBonde is the catalyst for a lot of that. She’s a very good player.”
And the Wildcats have their senior leadership, too, with LaBonde, Parks, Laase and Jenni Sneddon. They haven’t played the up-tempo game as long as Arapahoe has, but they took a liking to the quicker pace this year. “Personally, I love to run the court and get fast breaks and steals and run that up-tempo game, so this has been suited, personally for me, really well,” said Parks, who averages 10.4 points per game, second on the team to LaBonde’s 12.2 per game.
Parks added, “We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing. It’s working for us.”
Ultimately, Atkins said, the key will be Fruita’s ability to handle the Warriors’ full-court press.
“That’s always kind of the key in my mind,” he said. “Then it’s the quickness — the quickness and the physical play. How do you adjust to that in one ballgame?”