Ralston Valley‘s girls basketball team has been escalating toward greatness. The Mustangs made the program’s first Final Four last year, and in the four seasons before that they booked two Sweet 16 showings and two Great 8 appearances.
It’s already clear this season the No. 2 Mustangs (8-1) should be among the four teams playing at the Class 5A state tournament March 9-11 at the Denver Coliseum. The biggest question facing Ralston Valley is whether the Mustangs have what it takes to win it all.
Early returns suggest Ralston Valley is more than capable of hoisting the gold ball. Following a season-opening setback to No. 1 Grandview, the Mustangs haven’t lost, including wins over No. 5 Fairview, No. 6 Cherry Creek, No. 7 Lakewood and No. 9 Arapahoe.
“A lot of people question how athletic we are, but these kids have been playing together for a long time and for three, four years at the varsity level,” Ralston Valley coach Jeff Gomer said. “Experience is our intangible — we run our stuff well, we know what to look for, and that really helps us.”
Senior point guard Ashley Van Sickle (15.7 points per game) and senior shooting guard Micheala Shaklee (15.0) pace the team in scoring, but any player can take over a game. Senior forward Sarah Bevington, senior guard Chloe Gillach and junior guard Samantha Van Sickle are also threats to put up points, as are key bench players in sophomore forward Shelby Nichols and junior forward Alessia Capley.
“I’ve got five kids who can put up anywhere from 15-20 points on any given night,” Gomer said. “And even though a lot of people have been doubling down on Bevington in the post, it’s opened up our shooters on the perimeter. That’s probably been the biggest factor in our early success.”
Not only has Ralston Valley grown immensely since the season opener, but the 62-52 setback to Grandview on Dec. 2 has been by far the closest in-state game the Wolves have played all season.
Star Michaela Onyenwere and her Wolves teammates have utterly torched everyone else, but the Mustangs hung tough against them despite starting the game in a 11-0 hole as well as giving up a 12-0 run to start the second half.
“I’m glad we were able to play them first, because it showed where we were at as a team,” Van Sickle said. “Collectively, we’ve grown and gotten better, and we’re getting sharper as a team. Our confidence should continue to build throughout our league schedule and into the playoffs.”
And though Gomer emphasized his team must continue to develop its depth throughout January and February —he named Nichols and Capley as players he’s expecting to step into larger roles —he’s confident in his group’s chances if they keep playing to their strengths.
“We got to keep up our defense, because we’ve been very solid on that end of the floor, and we also shoot it well,” Gomer said. “As long as we keep being patient, getting good looks and then defending, we’ll be okay.”
As for the Mustangs’ four seniors, they realize that as they chase a 5A championship, they’re also continuing to lay the groundwork for the program’s future.
“Hopefully we’ve made younger generations of players and girls who play for the R.V. feeder team excited to join the high school team,” Van Sickle says, “and hopefully we’re great models for those younger girls.”