Ignacio High School has a long and proud basketball tradition, but this season marks a first for the school.
The boys and girls basketball teams reached the Colorado High School Athletic Association Class 2A state quarterfinals in the same season for the first time in the school’s history after the two programs won their respective regional tournaments Saturday at IHS.
“The kids have worked so hard and it’s a great end to what’s been a great season this year,” IHS boys head coach Chris Valdez said. “The girls have had quite a few injuries this year, and we’ve had injuries and sickness really bad the last three weeks. To get it together where we can both go is really a blessing.”
The Bobcat faithful who make the nearly 400-mile trek to the Budweiser Event Center in Loveland for the quarterfinals Thursday will get to see the Bobcats play in back-to-back games, as the eighth-seeded girls team will tip off against No. 1 Yuma at 11:45 a.m. followed by the No. 6 boys team against No. 3 Byers at 1:15 p.m. Here’s a closer look at the matchups:
No. 3 Byers (19-4) vs. No. 6 Ignacio (19-4)The Bobcats and Bulldogs are set to put on possibly the most entertaining game of the quarterfinals.
Stylistically, the two teams match up well. The Bulldogs love to push the tempo, similar to what Limon tried to do against Ignacio on Saturday, and will press and put pressure on the ball from end line to end line the entire game.
The up-and-down style of play matches what the Bobcats like to do – getting the ball in transition and finding open shots before the defense can set up.
“We’ve got to play our game, push our pace and put them in a position where they have to guard our speed too,” Valdez said. “We’ve got to go right at them. We’re not going to back down from them and let them dictate what happens on offense and defense. We’re going to play to win. We’re not going to play not to lose.”
Byers presents a tall task for the Bobcats in the form of 6-foot-9 junior Hayden McCuen, who has averaged 11 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game this season.
But maybe the biggest challenge Ignacio will face in the quarterfinals is trying to slow down Austin Davis, who leads Byers with 17.6 points per game to go with five rebounds per contest.
“When you have one of those great athletes come through your school, one of the best athletes you’ve ever seen, that’s the type of kid he is,” Valdez said of Davis. “He can shoot, he can rebound, he can dunk, he has all those attributes and we’re going to have our hands full guarding him.”
Brady Shelley is second on the team in scoring at 12.7 points per game and has dished out three assists per game. Shelley also is the Bulldogs’ biggest 3-point shooting threat, as he has made 31 of the team’s 59 3s this season. No other player for Byers has made double-digit 3-pointers this season.
Ignacio, on the other hand, loves the long ball and frequently plays four players with the green light to shoot from deep when open.
Cole McCaw, Kruz Pardo, Kai Roubideaux, Johnny Valdez and Lawrence Valdez have all proven themselves as capable shooters, and all can get hot in a hurry to reach double-digit scoring in any given game.
“We looked really good this last weekend, but the kids have to bring their A game,” coach Valdez said. “We’ve done what we could do to get here, and now it’s about who wants it more, who works harder and who has the bigger heart.
“If we play our best game and we bust our tail and they beat us, then good for them. Our plan is to play the best game we can put together and walk off that floor with our heads held high.”
The Bobcats and Bulldogs have shared a pair of common opponents this season in Denver Christian and Limon. Ignacio faced and beat both teams at the Region 6 tournament last week in Ignacio. The Bobcats beat Denver Christian 65-42 and toppled Limon 59-39 to advance to the quarterfinals.
Byers holds a 55-40 win against Denver Christian and owns two wins against Limon, as the Bulldogs had victories of 65-64 in Limon and 68-59, the latter coming in the 2A District 4 tournament on Feb. 24 when the Bulldogs outscored Limon by 11 points in the fourth quarter to earn the victory.
No. 1 Yuma (24-0) vs. No. 8 Ignacio (21-2)The IHS girls basketball team will get a shot at redemption in the quarterfinals, as the Bobcats will face No. 1 Yuma for the second season in a row.
Last year, Ignacio had the No. 8 seed and fell to the No. 1 Indians 43-18 in the quarterfinals. Yuma went on to place third at the tournament, while the Bobcats fell in the consolation bracket to Simla to end their season.
“The best thing about it is the majority of the girls get to draw back on experience from last year, going to the state tournament and going 0-2,” Ignacio head coach Trae Seibel said. “This entire season has been about personal choices, and I’ve been relinquishing power and control of the leadership to allow the young ladies to make choices. We’re blessed with the opportunity to go back to Loveland, and now it’s their choice of what they want to do and how to handle it.
“I think now they understand how it is to play under the lights in Loveland, and we’re going to go for it against Yuma.”
During the quarterfinals last year, the Bobcats struggled to score against Yuma’s defense. Seibel said Yuma plays an ultra-aggressive style that puts constant pressure on its opposition.
It’s similar to the defense of No. 9 Denver Christian, which Ignacio beat in the Region 8 tournament final 36-31 Saturday to advance to the quarterfinals.
One of the keys to the Bobcats breaking down Yuma’s defense will be taking advantage of the Indians’ aggressiveness and catching them out of position for clean looks at the basket.
Yuma returned the majority of last season’s roster, including leading scorers Chasey Blach and Cody Robinson.
Robinson leads the Indians with 14.6 points, 3.1 assists and three steals per game, while Blach has posted 14.3 points, 11.5 rebounds and two blocked shots per game.
“We’ve got to shut down Cody Robinson, their point guard, and Chasey Blach, their big girl inside,” Seibel said. “And we’ve been doing that all season long. We’ve ran into great, dominant scorers who have been able to score on the offensive end, and Thursday is going to be a reiteration of playing smart, hard-nosed defense.”
Two key pieces of the Bobcats’ defense are sisters Charlize and Kiana Valdez, who paired at the top of Ignacio’s 2-3 zone defense during the weekend to harass opposing guards on the perimeter and forced a lot of bad passes that led to turnovers with their defensive pressure.
Like Yuma, the Bobcats returned the bulk of its production from a season ago and boast a one-two combo of senior guard Avionne Gomez and sophomore post Morgan Herrera.
The duo has averaged about 50 percent of Ignacio’s points this season. Gomez leads the team with 16.5 points per game, while Herrera has scored 14.6 points per contest.
Gomez and Herrera, who play in the bottom of Ignacio’s 2-3 zone defense, also will be charged with swarming the 6-foot Blach when Yuma tries to get the ball in the post.
“It’s going to be just like Denver Christian. We walked in there on Saturday and they had a complete height advantage against us,” Seibel said. “What it comes down to is being physically smart. We’re not going to allow her to get position, front her block to block and push her out of position so she can’t camp underneath the basket. We’re going to make her work for every possession she gets.”