Quieting the Thunder: Central practices against boys to get ready for top-ranked Grizzlies
The ThunderRidge High School girls basketball team has developed quite a reputation.
The Grizzles are the No. 1-ranked team in Colorado by MaxPreps.com, and made it to the final eight in the Class 5A state tournament last season.
ThunderRidge is led by 6-foot-1 senior forward Brooke Jelniker, who has signed with the University of Kansas, and junior point guard Carlie Needles, who was given a scout’s grade of 93 on ESPN.com.
“It’s not a secret that they have a lot of girls that specialize in basketball,” Central coach Todd Dixon said. “We know they have weapons, and how talented they are.”
One way the Warriors, ranked No. 9 by MaxPreps.com, have been preparing to take on teams with the speed and size of ThunderRidge is by practicing against boys.
Dixon has brought in several boys to serve as managers and test his team with their strength and speed.
“It helps us practice at a better speed,” Dixon said.
Aaron King, a 5-foot-11, 170-pound senior, said he isn’t any less aggressive going against the likes of Amy Kame and Haleigh Higgins than he would be playing against other boys.
“We press them and give them a more physical look,” said King, who played football in the fall. “Dixon pushes us to be aggressive.”
King, Jarrett Higginson, Jeremy Lagree and Ryan Huff are the core group of managers who play against the girls on a regular basis.
Dixon said his goal is to have the boys push his team so hard that they will be prepared for any style of opponent they might face.
“It helps us become a better team by being challenged by athletic kids that happen to be managers,” Dixon said. “We want to be challenged every day.”
Kame said practicing against the boys has helped the Warriors be efficient while still pushing the tempo.
“They are bigger and more athletic,” Kame said. “Because they are so quick, it forces us to make good decisions with the ball.”
The Warriors play ThunderRidge at 8 tonight in the first day of the Wildcat Invite at Fruita Monument High School.
Central played ThunderRidge last year in the same tournament, losing 61-40. It was the third game of the season in Dixon’s first year as head coach. Central was still figuring out Dixon’s system and trailed 23-8 after the first quarter and 37-15 at halftime.
“Last year we started off slow,” Kame said. “This year we have been preparing for it, and know we can’t start slow against a team like that.”
Grand Junction also played ThunderRidge last year with minimal success, losing 87-26.
One year older and wiser, the Tigers are hoping for a more competitive game Friday night when they face the Grizzlies.
“We have to go at them like they are another team, and not build them up in our minds,” Grand Junction junior Paula Lage said. “We have to go in looking for a win instead of hoping that we will win.”
Tournament host Fruita Monument plays Columbine on Thursday, Carbon, Utah, on Friday and Battle Mountain on Saturday.
Palisade plays ThunderRidge’s junior varsity on Thursday, Central on Friday and Grand Junction on Saturday.