The two best girls basketball teams in Colorado look like it again early in the new season.
On a short stretch of Arapahoe Road in Aurora sit Grandview and Regis Jesuit, which played for last season’s Class 5A state championship and would be a good bet to reprise that contest this season at the Denver Coliseum.
If that were to happen, it wouldn’t be the first time the teams would see each other, however, as a local rivalry that has been percolating for several years resumed with a regular season meeting Dec. 12.
Coach Carl Mattei’s Regis Jesuit team came away with a two-point victory when the teams played in the regular season last year, but coach Josh Ulitzky and Grandview won the rematch by six on the big stage.
“Carl said it last year after our game, that we’ll be very different teams later in the year, but it will be a great barometer to measure yourselves,” Ulitzky said. “We want to compete against the toughest teams that we can. Regardless of how it comes out, what do we learn and how are we getting better?”
“This is a benchmark of where we are at right now.”
Of the two teams, Regis Jesuit has extra incentive when it takes the court against Grandview. The Raiders have been haunted by the last 46 seconds of the final — something they talk about frequently — as they watched the championship slip away after they had a late lead.
Until the 67-61 loss to the Wolves in the state final, Mattei’s team defeated every other opponent it faced in Colorado.
“From a team that went undefeated in Colorado until the final 46 seconds of the last game, we’re a bit hungry,” Mattei said.
The Raiders are indeed hungry and talented with the outstanding trio of senior Francesca Belibi, junior Jada Moore and sophomore Avery VanSickle as the fulcrum.
Belibi — who helped the Team USA U-17 team win a gold medal in Belarus over the summer — signed with elite NCAA power Stanford in the offseason and is capable of dominating games on both ends of the floor, while Moore is an outstanding playmaker with an improved shot and VanSickle is lethal from the perimeter and always willing to share the basketball.
Regis Jesuit’s tight rotation is rounded out by mostly experienced players who know exactly what they need to do for the team to win.
Regis Jesuit hit on all cylinders in a three-game sweep of the Cardinal Newman Classic in California to open the season and a 26-point victory over Mullen in front of a large crowd that included several Grandview players.
“I trust everyone with the ball and it’s good; I feel very comfortable and confident with my teammates,” Moore said. “We’re all working on our strengths and working to get back to what we want: to win state.”
Grandview can be the first Colorado team to three-peat in 5A since Highlands Ranch (2006-2008), but is developing its identity.
The Wolves were able to make up for the graduation of Michaela Onyenwere and a few other key pieces to win last season’s title and go into this title defense minus graduated sparkplug Leilah Vigil and talented veteran guard Jaiden Galloway among others.
These Wolves look to be bigger than any team they will come up against with 6-foot-7 freshman Lauren Betts joining 6-6 sophomore Addison O’Grady on the front line along with 6-2 senior Alisha Davis, a recent University of Northern Colorado commitment.
Air Force recruit Allyah Marlett is an all-around force, while juniors Landri Hudson, Tomia Johnson and Kameryn Brown provide the push in the backourt.
“Everybody is stepping into new roles and still trying to figure them out a bit,” said Ulitzky, who does have back four of his top-five scorers from last season in Davis, Marlett, O’Grady and Hudson. “It’s been fun to see us progress and we’ll find out a lot more over this next stretch,” he added.
Ulitzky’s team won the Best In The Nest tournament with a win over a Horizon team that is among the other group of 5A title contenders that includes Highlands Ranch, Cherry Creek and others yet to emerge.
Following the Regis Jesuit game, the Wolves depart for Phoenix to play in the Nike Tournament of Champions, where they’ll compete in the top bracket.
Other Aurora girls basketball teams off to strong starts include Denali Hughes-led Vista PEAK (perfect in its first five games), along with 4-1 Rangeview (keyed by senior Angel Broadus), while Makayla Hemingway and Cherokee Trail have two tournament runner-up finishes.
Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Sentinel Prep Sports