Cherry Creek advanced farther in the girls state basketball tournament than it had in over a decade, attaining a rare Sweet 16 win over Rock Canyon, 59-43, on March 4, before dropping a 47-38 decision to Poudre March 6 at the Denver Coliseum.
“It was a fantastic season,” said Creek coach Chris Curneen. “This was the first time we've been to the final eight somebody told me since 2002 or 2003.”
The Bruins, who finished the season with a 22-4 record, got off to a fast start and hurdled into the Elite Eight with a convincing victory over Rock Canyon at home.
Fueled by the inside play of 5-foot-11 senior Mikaela Eppard, Creek went on a 10-0 run midway through the first period and forced the Jaguars to play from behind the remainder of the game.
Eppard scored 17 of her game-high 24 points in the first half with a display of highlight-reel inside moves and shots with both her left and right hands. The Bruins flirted with leads of 10 points or more for the remainder of the game.
“I was getting a little lucky there,” admitted Eppard. “We were playing some really great defense and it turned into our offensive game. I was getting the shots that I wanted and getting to the bucket, which is what we wanted.”
Curneen believes whenever the Bruins hold an opponent to 40 or 50 points they have a good chance to win. However, when Creek faced another team with that same philosophy in Poudre, it was the Impalas that came out on top.
Poudre shut down the Bruins strong inside game and got loose in the lane for several easy buckets to pull away for the victory and move into the semifinals.
“When we looked at film, they were a lot like us,” said Curneen. “They defend really well and on the offensive end they score enough to beat you. They're a pretty good group. They're good defensively, they're physical and they get the ball inside.”
Creek led only once in the game at 13-12 with 6:58 to play in the second quarter after a 3-point basket by freshman Laura Pranger. Poudre grabbed a 25-20 lead at intermission and the closest the Bruins could come down the stretch was pulling within three points twice in the second half.
“It's the hard part when you get to this level because we're not used to being behind in the fourth quarter,” explained Curneen. “We had to do things that are uncharacteristic of what we do. You had to give them credit because they were ready for it. There's no shot clock and we played with the lead most of the year so we weren't used to that.”
Eppard paced the Bruins with 12 points in the loss and senior guard Katie O'Brien hit three 3-pointers in the second half and wound up with 10 points. Molly Rohrer finished with eight points, but didn't score in the final two quarters.
“We still tried to go to our two best players, Mikaela and Molly,” said Curneen. “It was too late to change things. Poudre did a great job of shutting them down defensively.”
Creek will graduate Eppard, a three-year starter and this season's leading scorer, as well as O'Brien and Vashia Dadiotis. But three underclass starters return (6-foot-1 junior Rohrer, 6-0 freshman Pranger and 6-2 freshman Lauren McMillen).
“We started two freshmen,” said Curneen. “So we have a good young group coming back. We have two juniors that played a bunch and a bunch of sophomores that are good but any time you lose three seniors as special as the ones I had it is a big loss.”