'Never stopped fighting:' Fossil Ridge's remarkable run ends in Great 8 loss to Arapahoe
DENVER — This wasn't a storybook ending, but it was still a really good read.
No. 13 Fossil Ridge girls basketball was right there in the final minutes against No. 5 Arapahoe but couldn't get over the hump in a 53-46 loss in Colorado's Class 5A Great 8 Friday at the Denver Coliseum.
The SaberCats (19-7) trailed 48-46 with 1:29 left after scrapping back from 5, 7, even 9 points down all game. The shots simply didn't fall late, a theme all night as Arapahoe's length frustrated Fossil Ridge.
"It happened in our favor at Monarch (in the Sweet 16) where a few plays in the fourth quarter turned the tide and gave a team control," said Fossil Ridge head coach Jamie Menefee.
"When it got closer to the end of the game, it was hard to wrestle control back because they started running clock. We couldn’t flex our defensive muscles anymore."
The loss ended a remarkable 14-game winning streak, one that included a share of the Front Range League title and a road upset over No. 4 Monarch in the Sweet 16.
Here are some thoughts on Fossil Ridge's Great 8 loss, a super senior duo and why the defeat still provided a blueprint for the program's future.
Arapahoe's height proves too much
The SaberCats' defense did an excellent job. Let's start there.
Even in a losing effort, Fossil Ridge basically shut down 6-foot-3 Arapahoe forward Sam Crispe, an NCAA Division-I bound Boston University commit.
She drained two 3-point bombs in the first half, yet only scored two points inside the arc all game.
Fossil Ridge junior Kate Davis didn't have her best offensive night (2-for-11 shooting) but kept Crispe in early foul trouble and held her to a season-low eight points despite a six-inch height difference.
"It was a really tough matchup tonight and (Kate) just did a fantastic job of being physical and playing bigger than she is," Menefee said.
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But it was the glasswork that cost them. The Warriors had a 42-23 rebounding edge, including 11 offensive rebounds.
Arapahoe (18-7) used a height advantage at every position to find favorable drives to the rim with a screen-heavy offense in a physical, frenetic game.
"The screens kept coming," said senior Maddie Kohler. "It seemed like every time you'd get around one, there'd be another one waiting."
It gave Arapahoe more open looks than Fossil Ridge. And remember the height edge?
It affected a Fossil Ridge offense that struggled early but made a late charge. Still, the SaberCats were just 14-of-48 shooting (29% to the Warriors' 41%) and made as many 2-pointers (seven) as they did 3-pointers.
"The game was pretty fast, so when we found the groove it was a little bit easier, but I think we found it a little too late," said senior Jess Rockwell.
Arapahoe guards Sydney White and Gianna Smith scored 12 and 15 points respectively to lead the Warriors, including several clutch free throws that stretched the late 2-point lead.
Fossil's future on display
Kohler and Rockwell were this team's undisputed leaders, and we'll get to them.
But this game also showcased who's next for the SaberCats in a big way.
Sophomores Ella Lavigne and Kaycee Steinke both came up with clutch shots to keep the game within reach.
Lavigne's scoring touch was on point from the start and again late, keeping Fossil afloat in the first half and closing strong with a game-high 16 points. Steinke finished with 9 points and two 3s.
Each embraced the Coliseum's cavernous confines in their first trip.
"Ella is such a gifted player and Kaycee is the exact same way," Menefee said. "They’re fierce competitors, and it’s pretty special to have sophomores who can play like that on the big stage."
Lavigne also grabbed four rebounds, giving her 231 for the season, a new Fossil Ridge single-season record. She nearly averaged a double-double in her first full varsity season with 10.5 points and 9.1 rebounds per game.
Outside of the two seniors, Fossil Ridge returns Lavigne, Davis, Steinke and every other contributor from a team that finished on fire.
"We’re excited," Menefee said. "This has been unique for me as a coach. It’s been a handful or more seniors basically every year since I've been here. You love that leadership of course, but it feels great to have a mix of young and experienced players coming back."
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SaberCats' senior sendoff
Rockwell and Kohler did not dominate the stat sheets, but they were this team's beating heart.
And what a season it was, from an odd 5-6 start to the ensuing 14-game winning streak and a return to the Great 8 for the fourth time in five years.
Both were also grateful for another crack at the Coliseum after a 40-point Great 8 blowout loss to Valor Christian here as sophomores,
"It just brought back memories from two years ago, so we took it all in," Rockwell said. "It was a much better game than that one, way more fun."
"We were able to show what Fossil Ridge girls basketball is about," Kohler added.
The SaberCats very nearly followed up a revenge win at Monarch on Tuesday with another against the Warriors, who had handily beaten Fossil by 13 points in a Jan. 11 matchup.
This time was different despite the final result. This Fossil Ridge team was different, even from what it was two months ago.
"I think just overcoming the first six losses and then having that winning streak will be what I'll always remember about us," Rockwell said. "We never stopped fighting."
So yes, it was a tough senior sendoff. Sad but satisfying. Somewhat bitter, but still plenty sweet.
Menefee said there were no regrets with the effort, in this game and all year long.
They went down swinging.
"On one side of the coin, coaches will say there’s no moral victories," Menefee said. "On the other side, we don’t only measure our success by wins and losses. It took a little longer for this team to forge their identity but when they did, it was really good.
"That's a credit to Maddie and Jess' leadership. Their absolute toughness is so admirable to me and it’s going to be hard to replace that."
Chris Abshire is the sports and stats content coach at the Coloradoan. Contact him at ChrisAbshire@coloradoan.com. Support his work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.
This article originally appeared on Fort Collins Coloradoan: Fossil Ridge girls basketball season ends with Great 8 loss to Arapahoe