Olathe leans on defense to advance to 3A final eight


Aspen (25-0)

Class 3A boys

Site: Moby Arena, CSU

Seed: No. 2

Path: Aspen defeated No. 31 The Academy 54-27, and No. 15 Yuma 60-29 in the regional last week.

Stud: The Skiers are led by Andrew Papenfus, a 6-foot-6 shooting guard, who averages 15 points per game. With his size and athleticism, Papenfus has been a matchup nightmare for most teams. 

First game: Aspen opens up the 3A tournament with its first-round game against No. 10 Manitou Springs at 1:15 p.m.

Notes: The Skiers are becoming honorary Fort Collins residents, having been to the Great 8 the past three seasons. Aspen hasn’t been able to get over the hump and bring home the golden basketball, but if this season is any foreshadowing of the state tournament, this could be Aspen’s year. The Skiers had only one game decided by less than 10 points all season. Aspen has the size to be competitive at the state level with 6-7 Bridger Dawson and 6-5 Zack Babich.

Sitting atop the 3A bracket is Faith Christian, which defeated Aspen in the Great 8 last season on its way to winning the championship.

Coal Ridge (13-11)

Class 3A girls

Site: Moby Arena, CSU

Seed: No. 27

Path: The Titans are the biggest upset story of any classification this season. Coal Ridge knocked off No. 6 Eaton in the first round of the regional tournament 53-49 and upset Salida in the regional championship 50-38.

Stud: Senior post player Tori Verdieck has played great as of late. Verdieck scored 24 points against Eaton and has averaged 11 points per game all season.

First game: Coal Ridge faces Western Slope League champion Olathe at 8:45 a.m.

Notes: The Titans are peaking at the right time, which is a good thing facing a Pirates team that has defeated them three times this season. The games were never blowouts, though. Coal Ridge nearly handed Olathe its only loss of the season before falling 44-43. Coal Ridge is a team playing with nothing to lose, and that should help the Titans play fairly relaxed at the state tournament. The Titans have six seniors on the team, led by Verdieck, Brianna Rhodes and Sam Wilson.

At the top of the 3A girls bracket is Colorado Springs Christian, which is 24-0.

Dove Creek (21-3)

Class 1A girls

Site: State Fairgrounds Events Center, Pueblo

Seed: No. 5

Path: The Bulldogs bounced back from losing their district tournament championship game to North Park to defeat Crested Butte 47-28 and Creede 56-40 in the regional round.

Stud: Senior Sonja Strong is as tough of a player as there is at the 1A level. Strong averages 16.7 points per game, and had only one game where she didn’t score at least 10 points.

First Game: Dove Creek begins its Great 8 against No. 4 Pawnee at 8:45 a.m.

Notes: The Bulldogs are returning to the state scene after a one-year hiatus. Dove Creek has been tough this season, only losing three times by a combined margin of 10 points. The Bulldogs are led by Strong, but have good role players in junior Kyli Banks (13 ppg) and senior Kayla Pribble (8 ppg). Dove Creek has a difficult road to the championship, having to get through No. 1 seed Kim (23-0) and No. 2 seed McClave (22-1).

When a team gets it right defensively, good things happen.

The Olathe High School girls basketball team is one of the best defensive teams in the state, and that defensive focus has taken the Pirates to the final eight of the Class 3A state playoffs, which begin today at Moby Arena at Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

The Pirates (24-0) are giving up an average of only 34 points per game, which has translated into a 24-game winning streak and the No. 3 seed.

Defense has been Olathe coach Paul Althaus’ calling card during his seven seasons in charge, but this group of Pirates has executed that defense with perfection.

“We’ve preached it for a number of years, and that’s to build our defensive game and have great intensity,” Althaus said. “It’s allowed us to struggle offensively some games and still get some wins.”

That includes a 44-41 win over Grand Valley in the district championship game and a 47-40 win over The Academy in the regional championship game.

“We play straight man-to-man, and we’ve done that all season,” Althaus said. “The kids have bought into it, they’re very aggressive, and we have the athletes that can play that style.”

The Pirates’ run this season includes a win over Class 2A power Paonia in addition to not allowing a team to score more than 50 points all season. Olathe success is more impressive since the roster is full of underclassmen, led by leading scorers Emily Brummitt (14 points per game), Morgan Stansberry (11 ppg) and Tawni Middleton (11 ppg). In fact, the Pirates have only one senior on the team, Bretta Prosser.

“This has been quite the special season for us,” Althaus said. “(Being undefeated) is something we’ve try to avoid talking about when we get to this point.”

Although Olathe is currently having one of its best seasons ever, things weren’t always great in the Pirates gym. Althaus remembers two straight years when they didn’t win a league game.

“We struggled, but we had kids that were dedicated to the program,” Althaus said. “They spent a lot of time playing summer ball, and the hard work has paid off.”

When the tournament begins today, the Pirates will be up early, playing league foe Coal Ridge at 8:45 a.m. Olathe has defeated the Titans three times this season, including a 51-43 win in the second round of the district tournament.

“You never know going into regionals, and we had three other teams from our league on our side,” Althaus said. “But I’m pleased that there are two teams from our league. It’ll be tough, we’ve had great games with them, and we have to be ready mentally.”

If the Pirates advance, they play the winner of No. 2 seed Holy Family and No. 7 Brush. Those two teams have a combined three losses. Despite the tough competition, Althaus said the Pirates are looking to achieve their final goal.

“We’ve had some main goals for this year,” Althaus said. “We wanted to win league, win districts, win regionals, and win the state tournament. They are real focused on that final goal, and we are hoping for good things.”

STATE NOTES: The closure of Interstate 70 because of a rock slide in Glenwood Canyon has played tricks with the Western Slope teams’ travel plans. Teams traveling east have had to take I-70 out of their travel plans, making it a little more difficult to get to Fort Collins. Coal Ridge and Olathe are finding their way by taking a detour through Meeker and Steamboat Springs, then going over Cameron Pass, adding two hours to their drive time.

The Class 3A, 4A and 5A boys and girls final four and championship games will be shown by pay-per-view on the CHSAA Web site (chsaa.org). The cost is $10 for the final four and $15 for the championship.


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