Led by five seniors, the 2019-2020 Fruita Monument High School girl’s basketball team continued the program’s winning tradition under coach Michael Wells with stout defense and consistent leadership.

The Wildcats ended the regular season on a six-game winning streak to seal their fourth Southwestern League title in five years, earned the No. 5 seed in the Class 5A playoffs and made the Great 8 for the second time in three years.

In advancing to the Denver Coliseum again, the Wildcats established their own place in program history after inheriting a lofty standard from the 2017-2018 squad.

“Like I’ve said all year, this group had a chip on their shoulder because they were always compared to that group,” Wells said in early March. “Even though some of them were a part of that group, I’m happy because this is something for them. This is something they accomplished that puts them on a level with that group and that makes me happy.”

The previous Great 8 team was led by Riley Snyder, now the top player for the Air Force Academy, and Angelique Gall, who signed with Chadron State College.

This team didn’t have two towering senior stars. Instead, it had a consistent rotation of experience.

Callie Allen led the team in both points (14.4 per game) and rebounds (6.1).

“It feels good (to establish our own legacy)”, Allen said. “It’s a team effort, but getting to say that we did it for once is really nice. It’s nice to not be compared because we’ve been compared for years.”

Lila Dere, the team’s second-leading scorer (13.5), and rebounder (4.5), wasn’t on the 2018 team, as she largely focused on soccer in her athletic career, eventually signing with Colorado Mesa University to play on the pitch. Her final game over her Fruita athletic career was also her first basketball game in the Denver Coliseum.

“It’s exciting for us to go (to Denver) again,” Dere said after Fruita clinched its Great 8 spot with a 51-39 win over Doherty at home in a mostly full arena with fans, a sight that would become rare in 2020. “Not many teams can do that. I’ve never been, so I’m so excited. It’s good to end on a win in our last home game.”

Allen, Dere, and fellow seniors Bailey Rigsby (7.1 points and 4.2 points), Kloe Bates (4.1 points and 1.9 rebounds) and Aiga Petelo (1.1 points and 1.3 rebounds), had their careers ended in a 77-38 loss to Grandview.

Ending their time as Fruita basketball players in a loss was difficult, but they were spared the fate of other prep teams who had their title chances snuffed out by game cancellations in the days after Fruita’s loss, resulting in no state champions throughout the classifications.

COVID-19 ended many teams’ times together in 2020, but the Fruita girls weren’t among them.

“The biggest thing I’m going to miss is the team chemistry and the girls on the team,” Rigsby said. “We were able to be comfortable with everyone and we had fun together. I’m going to cherish these memories we made.”

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