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LAKEWOOD — Green Mountain girls basketball was one of last high school basketball teams to play before the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown prep sports in Colorado.

The Rams walked off the court at the Denver Coliseum on the night of March 12, 2020 after a 38-31 Class 4A state semifinal loss to Holy Family. That night would be the final action of the 2019-20 prep season in Colorado with the remainder of the state basketball tournaments cancelled, along with the entire spring sports season due to the pandemic.

“It has been a long off-season for every program and coach in the state,” Green Mountain girls basketball coach Darren Pitzner said during the second day of official practice Jan. 19 at Green Mountain High School. “I want to give credit to our coaches across the state. Our coaches have pivoted more times than a Courtney Hank (4A Jeffco League MVP last season) step-through.”

Little did the 4A Jeffco League champion know it wouldn’t be back on the court until more than 10 months later to start its follow-up campaign from a 24-3 record and first state semifinal state appearance.

“It’s been a challenge. It’s been hard,” Green Mountain junior Avery Oaster said of the past 10 months. “The first step was just to get us together. We do have a promising season coming up.”

Changes in the Colorado High School Activities Association seasons has trimmed nearly a month and a half off a basketball normal year. Teams across all classifications are allowed 14 regular-season games and a scheduled 32-team 4A state tournament beginning March 9.

“It feels a lot longer than 10 months ago, that’s for sure,” Green Mountain senior Courtney Hank said talking about the state semifinal appearance. “It was definitely challenging missing out on the team (summer) camps we normally do where you really can bond early as a team. It will be interesting to see how that effects us going into the season.”

However, the Rams do have the advantage of several key pieces returning from last year’s historic team. First-team 4A Jeffco League all-conference selections Oaster and Hank return, along with second-team selections in junior Shea Murphy and sophomore Jayda Maves.

“The junior class this year has all been playing together since they were in elementary school,” Hank said. “We are all really good friends off the court too that really helps I think when it comes to chemistry.”

Hank is the lone senior on what is still a fairly young roster. The returning MVP knows the graduation of Maddie Phillips (7.4 points and 6.5 rebounds per game) leaves a void, but Green Mountain has a pair of 6-foot freshmen — Marae Riley and Taylor Ellington — who could develop into filling a key role.

“We’ll do a good job building off what we did last year, but we also have a lot of new talent that will be fun to see,” Hank said.

Green Mountain — No. 3 in the CHSAANow.com 4A girls basketball preseason rankings — opens its season Jan. 29 in a non-league game on the road against Lakewood.

“With our first games versus Lakewood and Ponderosa against two really well-coached teams and good programs,” Pitzner said. “I think our kids are really motivated and excited to finally get going.”

While Oaster said the team is focused on successfully defending its 4A Jeffco League title and another deep postseason run, Pitzner takes the big picture approach with the high school basketball season getting underway and continues to maneuver through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“My goals are to help kids through this challenging time,” Pitzner said of his focus this season. “I want to help my kids become the best they can with the opportunities they have. The big picture is helping our kids through this difficult time, rise to the occasion and fight through adversity.”

Dennis Pleuss is the Sports Information Director for Jeffco Public Schools.