Neilson leads Meeker into regional final

Taylor Neilson fancies herself a gym rat. She certainly shoots like one.

Led by the junior’s 24 points, Meeker High School earned a berth in the Class 2A Region 5 girls basketball final with a 60-24 win over Dolores at Central High School on Friday afternoon.

“I get up at like 5 a.m. in the morning and go shoot, and our whole team tries to stay after practice and stuff,” said Neilson, who conceded that rising early is not her favorite thing. “I just like basketball that much.”

Those dawn trips to the school gym to fine-tune her shot have paid dividends for the guard, who, fittingly enough, sports a No. 23 jersey for the Cowboys.

And Michael Jordan, the man who brought fame to that number, would have been proud of Meeker’s matinee showing against the Bears. Disruptive defense fed transition offense as the Cowboys scored the game’s first 13 points. Piper Haney started it with a basket down low, adding a steal and end-to-end layup moments later to make it 4-0. Then came a steal and layup by Sydney Hughes, a short jumper and 3-pointer by Neilson and a short shot by Haney.

Not even three minutes into the game, the Cowboys were up by a baker’s dozen. They stretched the lead to 20-3 by quarter’s end and to 36-9 by halftime.

“They came out on fire, and we were forcing it offensively,” said Dolores coach Tim Kercher, whose team shot at a 10-of-44 clip from the floor (22.7 percent). “I don’t think our defense was so bad. It’s just that our turnovers and their points off the turnovers killed us.”

Cydney McHenry led Kercher’s Bears (15-7) with seven points.

Haney finished with 10 points and Katie Dinwiddie scored eight for Meeker, which improved to 21-2 and will face Simla (19-4) in today’s region title game at Central. Tip-off is at noon, and the winner advances to next weekend’s round of eight at Colorado State University-Pueblo’s Massari Arena.

Hughes and Bailey Atwood scored seven points apiece for the Cowboys, who will be gunning for their first Elite Eight trip since 2009.

To get there, Meeker coach Greg Chintala will have to beat his alma mater.

“It’ll be fun,” the 1984 Simla High School graduate said. “I went to high school with half of their parents.”

Chintala’s daughter, Kaysyn, sat out Friday’s game. The younger Chintala, a key contributor for the Cowboys, sprained her knee at last weekend’s district tournament. Her status for today’s championship game remained uncertain as of Friday afternoon.


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