Rifle Bears rewarded with high seed, home games after dominant season
The Rifle High School girls basketball team is very comfortable with its surroundings.
This season, the Bears didn’t play a game outside of the Western Slope, and cruised to a No. 2 seed in the Class 4A playoffs.
After locking up the high seed and a first round bye, the Bears will stay close to home with the potential of playing two home games before the Great 8 at Colorado School of Mines.
“It helps out so much because going to Denver is such a different environment,” Rifle coach Stephanie Heald said. “Being home, we can control a lot more, and we were happy to get that.”
The Bears play the winner of Friday’s game between Lewis-Palmer and Arvada. Rifle was rewarded with its good playoff position for putting together a dominant season. The Bears finished 18-4 and 14-0 in the Western Slope League. Rifle didn’t only win the WSL, it crushed its competition. The Bears won every WSL game by an average of 24.2 points, and didn’t have an opponent come within 12 points.
“With this group, I knew we could go far whether that was this year or next year,” Heald said. “But I wasn’t sure if we were going to go undefeated in league.”
The Bears have won 15 straight games mostly because they are difficult to matchup against. Rifle plays three junior guards in Makayla Wilkins, Courtney Cordova and Ciara Euler. All three players are dangerous offensively, led by Cordova and Euler, who both average more than 15 points per game. Cordova has the ability to put up big numbers as she’s scored 37, 30 and 25 points in a game.
“Those three guards know where each other are at all times,” Heald said. “These girls have played together for a long time.”
Rifle is equally strong in the front-court with lone senior starter Nicole Karr playing alongside underclassmen Tresa Berner, Rachael Keithley and Hayden Holgate.
“We are basically a group of juniors,” Heald said. “Going forward, I’ve told them that we can’t get comfortable, we can’t let up.”
If all the seeds hold true, Rifle would host No. 3 seed Cheyenne Mountain in the Sweet 16 before seeing No. 1 Centaurus in the Great 8. Heald said the Bears have taken a methodical approach to the season, which has prevented slip-ups. In the postseason, she said she would like to see more of the same. “We haven’t set goals all year. It’s been focusing on only the next game,” Heald said. “We’d love to win it all, but I don’t know if we’ve ever said it to the girls, and I don’t know if I will.”
The Bears aren’t the only Western Slope team that will be fighting for the golden basketball as there are six other teams in the 4A girls playoffs. Leading the way is Montrose, which got a No. 3 seed with a 17-6 record. The 7-10 match-up in Montrose’s bracket is Montezuma-Cortez traveling to take on Glenwood Springs. Steamboat Springs finished second in the WSL and got a No. 4 seed. Palisade (No. 12) and Moffat County (No. 8) are both in Rifle’s bracket.
3A district tournament
Palisade High School hosts the 3A Western Slope League’s district tournament this weekend. There are eight teams in the boys and girls tournament with first-round games being played today for the girls and Wednesday for the boys. Aspen is the No. 1 seed for the boys tournament, and a clear-cut favorite entering the tournament with a 19-0 record and a 16-0 mark in the WSL. On the girls side, Olathe is in a similar situation as the No. 1 seed. The Pirates won their second straight WSL regular season title and are also 19-0 and 16-0.
The first of four games begins at 3 p.m. on Friday.