Chandler Sturms, one of Lutheran's stalwart guards, was whistled for her second foul 56 seconds into the Jan. 28 3A/2A Metro League game against Peak to Peak in the Lions' den.
She watched most of the first half from the bench but wasn't worried because she knew the Lions had plenty of depth to survive her foul problem.
Lutheran, which climbed to the No. 1 ranking in the Class 2A CHSAANow.com poll, rolled to a 55-31 victory over Peak to Peak (Lafayette) which entered the contest as the state's fifth-ranked Class 3A team.
“There was not really any doubt because as a team we've been working together really hard,” said Sturms. “With our defense and the bench I knew they could do it. So I was not too worried.
“Coach has put me in a lot of situations in practice where I have to work on not fouling. I have to learn to control it a little bit.”
Lutheran, using a pressing defense that forced the Pumas into 17 turnovers, put the game out of reach of the visitors in the second half.
The Lions extended their seven-point halftime lead to 13 points after three quarters and outscored Peak to Peak 15-0 in the first 5:59 of the fourth period.
“We talked at halftime that towards the end of the second quarter we started to see a little bit of wear and tear showing on the other side,” said Lutheran coach Mark Duitsman. “We knew that if we could come out, play smart without getting into foul trouble, maintain the pressure to start the third quarter that it had the potential to blow open and it did.”
Duitsman's Lions moved to 12-1 and 6-1 against Class 3A teams in the Metro following a 64-43 win over Faith Christian. The Lions only loss was a 56-40 setback to top-ranked 3A team Holy Family earlier in the year. And the Lions could be getting even stronger with the recent additions of three players.
Lexi Knutson, a 5-foot-10 sophomore transfer from Bishop Machebeuf, and 6-0 junior Cara Thomas, a transfer from Highlands Ranch, have played just three games after becoming eligible. Taylor Stuckey, a 5-7 sophomore, made her season debut against Peak to Peak after coming back from knee surgery.
“We're getting used to our lineup,” Duitsman said. “We have two players who just became eligible. It was the third game for Lexi and Cara. This was the first game back for Taylor Stuckey from a yearlong ACL recovery and she got out there a little bit.
“We're still trying to figure out rotations. So I want to give all the girls credit because they are being asked to do different things now that we are eligible and a little healthier. They are showing a lot of maturing by doing whatever they need to do.”
Lutheran, a team loaded with underclass players, came up with 11 steals, dished out 15 assists and showed plenty of balance in its offensive attack. Kaleigh Paplow, a 5-9 junior, led the way with 13 points, five rebounds, five assists and four steals. Sophomore guard Kristen Vigil has 11 points while Sturms, a 5-8 junior, scored all her eight points in the second half. And, she finished the games with only two fouls.
Knutson and Thomas, who both started, each had six points.
“We do play a lot of players,” acknowledged Duitsman. “It's different for us because the last couple years we had depth at the guard spot and we still do. This year's depth is really inside.
“We enjoy playing defense but we can get better. I was pleased with the effort against Peak to Peak defensively. I thought there were a lot of extra passes. Even off of those quick steals there was that look for the extra pass. When this team does that, really good things are going to happen.”
Duitsman and the Lions are trying to take their No. 1 ranking in stride.
“We have perspective because we've done the undefeated season thing and got knocked out,” he said. “We've been ranked high before and come up short. Certainly you enjoy people giving you that kind of respect but it doesn't mean anything.
“What it does is motivate us to stay humble, stay focused and we're being very proactive about worrying about the process and not about the rankings.”
In 2011 the Lions were eliminated in the quarterfinals of the Class 2A playoffs. Lutheran lost in the 2012 state championship game and last season lost in the state semifinals, but won the third place game.