Halfway through the Class 4A basketball season, both No. 1-ranked teams in the classification have extra motivation after having their championship dreams derailed by coronavirus in 2020. The Mullen girls never got to play their title tilt against Holy Family when the tournament was canceled, while Mead boys were left standing in the Final 4.
Here’s a look at Mead and Mullen at midseason, as well as other top teams in the classification to watch over the second half of the season.
Mullen’s “unfinished business”
Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post
Mullen players celebrate winning the 4A Girl’s Semifinal State Championship game against Berthoud in front of empty seats at the Denver Coliseum on Thursday, March 12, 2020.
Over at Mullen, 13th-year coach Frank Cawley sang the praises of a six-player senior class that has never lost a playoff game — and if the Mustangs have their way, they’ll graduate with that streak intact, too. Mullen has been to two straight title games, winning in 2019.
“On every practice plan — and this came from the day that we met on the day they canceled the state championship game — we put ‘unfinished business,’ ” Cawley said. “We have to finish this off this year right, because we have six seniors on this team who have been with us since jump street. They’ve paid their dues and developed phenomenal chemistry. They’re really committed to each other to finish that business.”
The Mustangs are paced in scoring by junior Gracie Gallegos, who Cawley said “can flat-out shoot it” as she’s averaging 15 points per game. Complementing her is senior point guard Megan Pohs, a Regis University commit who is also averaging double-digit scoring as the “straw that stirs the drink” of Mullen’s attack.
Add in junior forward Kilah Freelon, junior forward Imani Perez, senior forward Haley Van Horn and senior sixth man Alexa Dominguez, who can play four of the five positions on the floor, and the result is a depth of talent that has “committed themselves to working that much harder to achieve that goal (of a title).”
The primary focal point for Mullen down the stretch and into the playoffs is on the defensive end, where Mustangs have held opponents to 25 points or less in five of six victories.
“We begin everything and end everything with our defense,” Cawley said. “Every practice, every talk I give — that’s really what we take a lot of pride in. And our numbers bear that out — defensively, we’re playing really well right now. But we need to continue that.”
Mead eyes history
Windsor’s Jaden Kennis (11) slips by Mead’s Nick Basson (1) during the Mead Mavericks boys basketball game against the Windsor Wizards at Windsor High School Feb. 17, 2021.
Last year, the Mavericks were on the cusp of the program’s second title and first since 1957, and appear capable of re-writing history again this year with a largely different cast.
“We had a really good senior class, so we definitely lost some guys, but plenty of guys on our current roster experienced (that disappointment),” Mead head coach Darin Reese said. “The motivation has definitely carried over for us this year, even though it’s a brand new team. Even the guys we had from last year’s group are in different roles, different spots, and we’re certainly asking more of them.”
Mead’s young starting cast features junior post James Shiers (listed at 7 feet tall), plus junior guard Elijah Knudsen, junior forward Will Tenore, junior forward Corby Tecu and sophomore guard Nick Basson.
But in a Class 4A boys field underscored by parity, Mead knows it’s going to have to play its best basketball in the playoffs.
“There’s a bunch of teams that are going to have a say in this thing at the end,” Reese said.
Other top teams
Andy Cross, The Denver Post
George Washington High School sophomore basketball player Jaida Redwine at George Washington High School Jan. 21, 2021.
On the girls side, No. 2 George Washington is explosive, and the Patriots are another title frontrunner despite their youth.
GW’s starting five is headlined by senior guard Maya Whiteside, a Long Island University commit and McDonald’s All-American nominee, as well as point guard Jaida Redwine, a Division I prospect. Rounding out the starting five are sophomore guards EmmaJo Locks and Mya Cotto, as well as freshman forward Gianna Whiteside, Maya’s sister.
Coach Keithan Lyons believes his team matches up well with Mullen as well as all the other top contenders in 4A.
“It’s not like (Mullen) is invincible or anything like that, or like they’ve got (Grandview star) Lauren Betts over there or something,” Lyons said. “They’re a good team but so are we. It’s going to be interesting between them, us, the Windsors, the Green Mountains, the Holy Familys, the Eries. The depth of 4A is way greater than 5A, and we’re definitely seeing that this year.”
On the boys side, the power is certainly concentrated outside the Denver metro area. Beyond Mead, No. 2 Windsor (who beat the Mavericks this week), No. 3 Longmont, No. 4 Lewis-Palmer, No. 5 Pueblo Central, No. 6 Evergreen, No. 7 Montrose, No. 8 Erie, No. 9 Pueblo South, No. 10 Centaurus and No. 11 Golden are all capable of deep tournament runs. Within the metro, No. 12 Aurora Central is also potent, as the Trojans are paced by sophomore Khafre Garrett-Mills, who ranks third in the classification at 23.0 points per game.