The preseason top five for Class 5A girls basketball is defined by star power, and to be more specific, stars that can score.
No. 1 Regis Jesuit has dunking phenom Fran Belibi, No. 2 Grandview boasts an All-Colorado talent in Leilah Vigil, No. 3 Cherry Creek has an elite point guard in Jana Van Gytenbeek, No. 4 Highlands Ranch returns dynamic shooter Tommi Olson and No. 5 Lakewood is equipped with the dominant 6-foot-5 Camilla Emsbo.
But lurking in the rankings just outside the state’s traditional powerhouses is No. 8 Castle View, a team that Sabercats’ coach Matt Hema readily admits has to win a different way.
“Our philosophy is going to be to share the ball and work inside-out,” said Hema, a New Zealand native who played professionally there. “It’s probably a style that’s more of an international style than it is over here, but we certainly haven’t had the kind of players that other programs have been blessed with, who are able to put up big numbers and carry a team.”
But while the Sabercats might not have any players who are household names quite yet, their depth, size and experience has Castle View believing that the school’s 5A state champion volleyball team might not be the only athletic program to post a breakout year.
Castle View starts four future college players, as senior point guard Abbie Cooley (being recruited by D-II and NAIA schools), senior shooting guard McKay Vansickle (Calvin College commit), junior small forward India Cole (D-I looks from Boise St. and Weber St.) and junior power forward Madison Hema (D-I looks from Northern Arizona and Washington St., among others) give the Sabercats the potential to improve upon last season’s Sweet 16 exit.
“We’ve been a Sweet 16 team four of the last five years, and we’ve come close to advancing past that,” Hema said. “With this team, we’re hoping to get to the Great 8, and then once we’re at the Denver Coliseum, we’ll see what happens — the Coliseum is often a great place for a team with an inside game, because it’s sometimes tough to shoot in that arena.”
In the meantime, between now and the start of the playoffs in mid-February, the Sabercats are intent on proving their preseason Top 10 billing was no accident, starting with the Castle View/ThunderRidge Tip-Off Tournament which begins Thursday.
“The girls are excited about the opportunity to live up to a ranking,” Hema said. “Most coaches would probably rather be under the radar, but if you want to build a program, sometimes having a number and a target on your back causes your players to play up to those expectations.”
2017 Castle View girls basketball at-a-glance
Coach: Matt Hema, 8th year
Season Openers: Nov. 30 vs. Grand Junction in first round of Castle View/ThunderRidge Tip-Off Tournament.
Last year: 16-9, 7-3 Continental; lost 60-36 to Highlands Ranch in Sweet 16.
Key games: Dec. 5 vs. Monarch; Dec. 13 vs. Cherokee Trail; Dec. 20-23 at Tarkanian Classic (Las Vegas); Jan. 23 at ThunderRidge; Jan. 30 vs. No. 1 Regis Jesuit; Feb. 6 vs. No. 4 Highlands Ranch.