MONUMENT - When you talk high school basketball in the Colorado Springs area, there are few teams in any classification that can match the success of Palmer Ridge.
The Bears were 21-4 last season and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen of the 4A playoffs. Third-year coach Dennis Coates returns four of his top seven players.
“The biggest advantage we had last year was how good our depth was,” Coates said. “Hopefully all that pays off this year. If we stay healthy and continue to get more confidence we could have a very good season.”
The core of this year’s squad consists of senior forward Michelle DeCoud and senior guard Madison Thomas, and junior guard/forward Ali Meyer and junior guard Rhyley Lane. The 6-foot-1 Meyer averaged 7.8 points and 8.4 rebounds last season.
Other key contributors should be juniors Laura McCarthy, McKenzie Brummond and Libby Acker, and sophomore McKenzie Gouner
“Getting back to the Sweet Sixteen is a goal,” Coates said. “Seeding is a big thing, so we have to do well in our league.”
The Bears play in the Pikes Peak Athletic Conference. Coates figures other top teams will be defending state champion Air Academy (which graduated its top seven players), Sand Creek and Falcon.
Cross town rival Lewis-Palmer is also in the conference.
“Those are two games I know will be close - no matter what the records are,” Coates said.
Kasey Lucero takes over as the new coach of the Titans. She previously worked as an assistant in the program for two seasons.
“We have nine returning players from last year,” Lucero said. “Five of them have a lot of experience. This should be a fun group to coach.”
The Titans (10-11 last season) lost their best player to graduation in Taylor Garcia (University of Colorado at Colorado Springs).
Leading the way this year is senior CheyAnn Queener (8.4 ppg),4 steals, 3.2 assists). Two other starters also return in senior center Eloise Smith and junior Hannah Carr.
Sophomore guards Leah Hinckfoot, Chrissy Lind and Mallory Weiss are also expected to play key roles.
“CheyAnn can shut anybody down and she’s hard to catch once she’s in the open court,” Lucero said of her star player. “She also sees the court well and she’s tough underneath the basket.”
Lucero added that a strong defense is the key to the team’s success.
“Defense will be big for us,” Lucero said. “If our defense starts to fall apart, we’ll fall apart.”
The Rangers’ top player from last season, Kai Brown, is playing at UCCS. But the cupboard is not bare as 6-1 sophomore Alexa Smith returns to fill the void.
“Alexa led us in rebounds (9.4) and was second in blocked shots (two per game) last year,” said Lewis-Palmer coach Joel Babbitt. “She was also our second leading scorer (8.1).”
The Rangers were 5-19 last season and lost in the first round of the playoffs.
Smith will be joined by senior Jade Pantle, and juniors Kami Ahart, Emma Weaver and Courtney Fox. Pantle and Ahart are both three-year varsity players and should solidify the backcourt.
“I think we’re in a better position this year to score,” Babbitt said. “I think we’ll get more points on the board because of Kami and Jade. And Alexa is one of our better shooters from anywhere.
“We took our time with Courtney. She has really quick feet and she’s really aggressive. We’re expecting her to surprise a lot of people.”
The Thunder was 11-14 last year and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, where it lost to league rival Sand Creek. Discovery Canyon upset Thomas Jefferson for the first postseason win in the history of the program.
“We have to play our game and keep our tempo,” said Thunder senior post/guard Mariah McGettigan (7.4 ppg). “We’re a very diverse team. It always starts with defense for us, but we take what comes.”
Danielle Rivera returns for her fifth season as coach. She lost six seniors, so she will be building around youth.
In addition to McGettigan, the Thunder will rely on sophomores Alex Smith and Jennifer Schneible, and senior Kerry Pederson.