Fearsome foursome: Lage, Derrieux, Drake and Brady give GJ edge in SWL race

Stephanie Drake, right, is one of four returning starters for the Grand Junction girls basketball team. Drake, along with fellow seniors Paula Lage and Fawn Brady and junior Jamie Derrieux, will lead an experienced group of Tigers. Grand Junction will be the favorite in the Southwestern League and the Tigers have hopes of getting farther in the playoffs than last season, when they lost in the Sweet 16.



QUICKREAD

SOUTHWESTERN LEAGUE AT A GLANCE

Central

Coach: Todd Dixon (3rd year)

2009-10: 21-4 (10-0). Defeated Mountain Range 60-40 in second round, lost to Heritage 59-43 in quarterfinals.

Key players: Brittany Hoppe, Jr., G; Katie Fox, Sr., G

Outlook: Central will take similar approach to Montrose — keep games low-scoring and force teams to beat the Warriors from the outside.

Durango

Coach: Klint Chandler (2nd year)

2009-10: 13-11 (4-6). Defeated Loveland 57-47 in first round, lost to Chaparral 57-44 in second round.

Key players: Aspen McKeever, Sr., G; Kaylyn LeClaire, Sr., F

Outlook: The Demons have the one thing most teams crave — size. McKeever and LeClaire are both 5-foot-10.

Fruita Monument

Coach: Dan Schmalz (4th year)

2009-10: 11-14 (3-7). Defeated Rocky Mountain 60-55 in first round, lost 64-20 in second round to Highlands Ranch.

Key players: Taylor Johnson, Sr., F/G; Jessica Sinner, Jr., G; Megan Reynoso, Sr., G

Outlook: The Wildcats have gotten better in every year of Schmalz’s tenure. The inexperienced bench could cause early problems, but the Wildcats will be a dangerous team come February.

Grand Junction

Coach: Sam Provenza (12th year)

2009-10: 15-11 (4-6). Defeated Boulder 45-44 in the first round, defeated Aurora Central 60-38 in second round, lost to Highlands Ranch 65-34 in quarterfinals.

Key players: Jamie Derrieux, Jr., G; Fawn Brady, Sr., G/F; Paula Lage, Sr., F; Stephanie Drake, Sr., G

Outlook: Derrieux might be the most talented player in the league and Brady, Lage and Drake are gritty seniors hungry for a championship.

Montrose

Coach: Eric Sanchez (2nd year)

2009-10: 18-7 (7-3). Defeated Mountain View 46-37 in first round, lost 54-37 to Conifer in second round.

Key players: Jana Horn, Sr., F; Madison Gurule, Jr., G; Kaylee Walker, Sr., F

Outlook: Walker is a tough post player with big shoes to fill after Hanna Bowden graduated.

Montezuma-Cortez

Coach: Justine Bayles (1st year)

2009-10: 11-12 (2-8). Lost to Glenwood Springs 59-54 in first round of playoffs.

Key players: Keely Yanito, Sr., G; Kelia Yanito, Sr., G;

Outlook: Yanito twins aren’t afraid to pull the trigger. The Panthers will give every team in the SWL trouble.



Not so long ago, the Grand Junction High School girls basketball team was relying on a starting lineup of one senior, three sophomores and a freshman.

Those three sophomores (Paula Lage, Fawn Brady and Stephanie Drake) are now seniors and the freshman, Jamie Derrieux, is a junior coming off a sophomore season in which she averaged 14.2 points per game.

The amount of starting experience the four have gained the past two seasons makes the Tigers the front-runners in the Southwestern League this season.

The four players have all gotten bigger and matured mentally on the court, but to Grand Junction coach Sam Provenza, entering his 12th season, that’s not the biggest difference.

“They can all drive now and they couldn’t then,” Provenza joked. “We really haven’t changed anything since they were freshmen and sophomores.

“We’ve been running it pretty consistently and are really just fine-tuning it.”

The foursome led the Tigers on a run in last season’s Class 5A playoffs, winning their first two games against Boulder (45-44) and Aurora Central (60-38). Grand Junction lost in the Sweet 16 to Highlands Ranch 65-34.

“Those four have been starting for a long time,” Provenza said. “We are doing the same things, just now it’s a lot better and a lot quicker.”

Provenza hasn’t settled on Grand Junction’s fifth starter, but has experienced depth with guards Joei Ritter and Kricket Adleman along with post players Camille Goodsell and Jeslyn Szabo.

“Our bench is good,” Provenza said. “When kids are coming off of the bench, they know what to do when they get on the floor.”

Fruita Monument doesn’t have quite the depth of Grand Junction, but has a dynamic player in senior Taylor Johnson. The 5-foot-11 post averaged 11.4 points per game last season and blocked 37 shots.

Johnson will be the leader, but won’t have to do it alone. The Wildcats are expecting a lot from junior point guard Jessica Sinner.

“With Taylor, we are going to get scoring, rebounds and blocked shots,” Fruita Monument coach Dan Schmalz said. “With Jessica, as she matures she’ll look to score a lot more and look to run the team.

“So having a great post player and a great point, we can be successful.”

Both Fruita Monument and Grand Junction have a brighter outlook in the SWL partly because Central is in rebuilding mode.

The Warriors dominated the league the past two seasons, going 19-1 in the SWL. But the Warriors graduated their top six scorers — including Amy Kame, who averaged 25.8 points per game — and with that turnover, are a completely different group.

Central returns only three varsity players from last season, including starting point guard Brittany Hoppe.

“In my 12 years of coaching, I haven’t been up as high as we’ve been the past two years,” Central coach Todd Dixon said. “So in one sense it’s hard to come down, but I love the attitude of this group and they’ve inspired me to get excited about what’s possible.”

The other three SWL teams will make this one of the most even league races in recent memory. Montrose’s methodical style of play allows it to be consistent despite the graduation of 6-foot-1 Hanna Bowden. Durango has size with 5-10 forwards Aspen McKeever and Abby Surmeier. Montezuma-Cortez returns the sharp-shooting twins Keely and Kelia Yanito.

“The league has a lot of talent,” Schmalz said. “Grand Junction is probably the team to beat. They’ve beaten us the last three times, so I know we are gunning for them.”


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