LOVELAND — Will Vail Christian basketball be looking in the mirror when it plays Hi-Plains today at 1:15 p.m. at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland during the first round of the 1A state tournament?
“They like to push the ball down the court and turn turnovers into points,” Vail Christian coach Sheldon Kuhns said of the No. 2-seeded Patriots. “In the half court, they’re pretty disciplined. … They’ll try to beat you off the dribble or from deep.”
So No. 7 Vail Christian will be playing a team that likes to run, has two big guys inside and a 3-point threat. Sound like any local team that wears blue, silver and white?
The Saints drew No. 7 in the eight-team field. Last year, they were No. 6 and pulled the upset against No. 3 Fleming on the way to a third-place finish.
Of concern today will be 6-foot-5 Hi-Plains senior center Avery Marzolf, as well as 6-foot-4 forward Justin Miltenberger. In fact, all five Patriots starters are seniors making their state debut.
While Hi-Plains has the height advantage, the Saints boast experience, having been to the Great Eight before.
Playing With Confidence
“We feel more confident this year,” Kuhns said. “When you look at Hi-Plains, it reminds me a lot of Fleming last year. They were all seniors who finally got (to state). I really think being at the show before is a big deal.”
Ethan Ellsworth remains a question mark for the Saints. The junior sprained his ankle in Saturday’s regional win over Primero. Kuhns said Ellsworth is a game-time decision.
With or without Ellsworth, the Saints should see a lot of pressure from Hi-Plains. The Patriots will press and also use a high 2-3 zone in a halfcourt set. That could mean some discomfort early on in the game, but Kuhns feels that the Saints are solid on in-game adjustments.
“Sargent, Rangely, Meeker, all those games made us better,” he said. “Those games forced us from our comfort zone, and we were able to play well. Playing teams like Meeker and Paonia will do that. We learned how to keep attacking, and it showed at regionals.”
Vail Christian and Hi-Plains are on the bottom of the bracket. The Saints-Patriots winner faces the victor of No. 3 Cheyenne Wells and No. 6 Norwood on Friday at 5:30 p.m. Kuhns is happy to be on this side of the bracket with Cheyenne Wells, a state newcomer, and Norwood, with which Vail Christian is quite familiar.
In the top half of the bracket Caliche takes on Fleming, while Holly and defending state champion McClave meet.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, firstname.lastname@example.org and @cfreud.