Boys Basketball: Olander, Eaglecrest seniors go out on top with cherished state championship

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The Eaglecrest Raptors pose as a group with their new 5A State Championship trophy March 11 at the Denver Coliseum. Eaglecrest overcame a six-point deficit at the end of the first half defeating George Washington 53-47. (Photo by Philip B. Poston/Aurora Sentinel)
Members of the Eaglecrest boys basketball team pose with the Class 5A state championship trophy and banner they won with a 53-47 victory over George Washington on March 11, 2017, at the Denver Coliseum. The Raptors capped a 24-4 season with the program’s second 5A state championship. (Photo by Philip Poston/Aurora Sentinel)

When they arrived four years ago, the current seniors on the Eaglecrest boys basketball team came into a program that had just won a Class 5A state championship.

That was the 2012-13 season, when coach John Olander led the Raptors to the school’s first state title with a victory over Denver East. The incoming group inherited lofty expectations and with it belief that winning a state championship might be possible someday.

That day turned out to be March 11, when Eaglecrest’s six seniors — Colbey Ross, Nate Bokol, Ikenna Ozor, Austin Forsberg, Joshua Walton and Jamey Rich — walked off in the Denver Coliseum floor in style with a gritty 53-47 victory over George Washington in the 5A state championship game.

“We won it when I was in eighth grade and I remember coming in and thinking ‘Will I ever get to that point?’” Ozor said. “This is really the fruition of all of our labor, working hard and winning a state championship. I really can’t explain it, it’s just amazing.”

At the time, that senior group didn’t know their last game would also be the last for Olander, who announced his intention to step down earlier in the season after a lengthy run on the bench that included four trips to the Final Four in the last five seasons and two titles.

The seniors were especially close to Olander, who saw them deliver a title that he hadn’t anticipated coming when it did. The group made last season’s 5A state championship game — falling to Centennial League rival Overland — and were able to take that next step just a year later.

They all played their parts in the championship game: Ross finished with a game-high 15 points and Ozor had 12, Walton contributed six points and drew three charges, Forsberg knocked down a pair of 3-pointers and Bokol chipped in three points and banged inside with the Patriots’ post players.

“Last year I thought we had the pieces that if we could get to the final eight, we would be on track to be in a final four this year,” Olander said. “But you can never underestimate the will of Colbey Ross, the fight of Austin Forsberg,  the experience of Nate Bokol, the unselifshiness of Ikenna Ozor and the acceptance of a role from Josh Walton, plus the other guys who battle each and every day.

“When you have that, good things happen to you.”

To deliver the storybook ending for their coach, Eaglecrest had to overcome an athletic, hungry George Washington team that was in the state final for the first time since 2009, when it lost to another Aurora team, Regis Jesuit.

The Raptors’ seniors rose to the occasion when they needed it in the second half, which they entered facing a six-point deficit. Ross (a Peppperdine signee) gave Eaglecrest a one-point lead with a cold-blooded 3-pointer just before the horn in the third quarter, which launched a 12-0 Raptors’ run.

Opening the fourth quarter, Walton — who made a free throw with 0.8 seconds left in overtime in a thrilling 61-60 semifinal win over Rock Canyon the previous night — made a layup and took a charge on the other end of the floor, then two layups and a free throw from junior Victor Garnes (11 points) and an Ozor bucket as Eaglecrest went up 42-32 with 6:26 remaining.

The Raptors fended off various runs from the explosive Patriots, who had a 15-game winning streak snapped and were held to nearly half of their season scoring average of 84 points per game.

The victory capped a season that saw the group that had raised expectations and came into the season as the odds-on favorite.

“I wanted to prove anyone who doubted us wrong and show why we are the best team in the state and why Coach O is the best coach in the state,” Ross said.

“This has been my goal for four years, so it’s amazing to get it done like this. Coach O gave me the chance to be on varsity four years ago, so this is for him.”

Like Ross, Bokol had been to four Great 8s, three Final Fours and three championship games with the program and couldn’t have been happier to share the title with his fellow seniors.

“Those are my brothers,” Bokol said. “Working with them for four years and getting a championship with them is amazing.”

Olander finished a season filled with a sense of relief that he wouldn’t have to worry about the future like he had in every season previously.

“I just need to get some time away and enjoy the family and that kind of stuff,” Olander said. “It just feels weird now, like ‘Holy cow, you just did it and now you’re going to walk away?’ But it feels good. It feels right.”

Courtney Oakes is Aurora Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel