With four consecutive Class 3A state championships followed by a 22-2 season in the last five years, greatness seemingly is an inherent quality for Holy Family girls basketball teams.
But with no returning starters and just three non-starting seniors on the roster, the 2012-13 Tigers would be at best a work in progress. And what better way for veteran coach Ron Rossi to season his young team than run it through a non-conference gauntlet that included the top-ranked 4A (Broomfield) and 3A (St. Mary’s) squads as well as 5A’s unbeaten (until last Friday) Mountain Range.
Holy Family lost all three of those games, but emerged from its preseason as a better team and a No. 5 ranking that was no doubt an acknowledgement to past success. How good are the Tigers? On Friday they were good enough at home to knock off second-ranked Bishop Machebeuf 53-43 in the teams’ Metropolitan League opener and show that, once again, Holy Family will be a force in Class 3A.
“I play good competition in the preseason to prepare for league,’’ Rossi said. “We’re a very young club, so playing good teams makes you better.’’
The Tigers managed their No. 5 ranking into the game despite a 6-3 non-league record. “People look at (the record) and sometimes don’t look deeper into it,’’ said sophomore forward Megan McGillin. “But we played strong and lost to good teams. I think it’s good to play tough competition because it prepares us for hard games like the one we had tonight. Instead of playing teams that maybe force us to go lower than our level, we have to play higher and up to theirs, which helps us improve in a lot of different ways.’’
Young teams need something to hang their hat on, and for Holy Family that is defense.
Playing a variety of defenses, the Tigers held the Buffaloes well below their 61.5 scoring average (Machebeuf needed 16 points in the fourth quarter to reach 43) and to 25 percent shooting from the field (23 percent through three quarters). Star senior Aisha May had a game-high 22 points, but no other Buff had more than seven.
“This team is just trying to find their own identity, and they’re finding out that they’re a pretty darned good defensive club,’’ Rossi said. “Tonight we swarmed the ball real well, we had a hand up with the shooters and our close-downs were good.
“If you hang around defensively, good things happen for you offensively, too.’’
Indeed, Holy Family struggled offensively in the first quarter against Machebeuf’s unique version of a 1-2-2 zone defense, shooting 3-of-12 in building a 7-4 lead. The Tigers settled down and shot 47 percent the rest of the game, but they only led by two points (20-18) at halftime before McMillin’s hot hand helped them net a 35-27 lead after three quarters.
McMillin carried a 2.1 scoring average into the game, which included a career-high six points a week earlier against Eaton. She matched her high in the third quarter and finished with 10 points. Not a bad two-game stretch for someone who jumped from the “C’’ squad (lowest of three levels) to a varsity of
“I think I just fell into a rhythm, said McMillin, who hit three short-to-medium range jump shots in the third quarter. “I didn’t have all that many points in the previous games and I think I finally found what I need to do to get them. I just kept shooting, and it worked.’’
“She’s really improved and worked hard at her game,’’ Rossi said of the 5-10 McGillin. “She’s a smart kid and had a good basketball IQ.’’
“It’s just amazing,’’ McGillin said of her quick rise in the program. “The major thing for me was I improved my shot from last year to this year. I think that was the big thing holding me back, and by improving that it pushed me ahead in the competition.’’
The Tigers got 12 and 11 points from this year’s Chavez sister duo: 12 for freshman point guard Katie, who replaced sister Megan and her 14.0 average and 54 3-pointers, and 11 for junior guard Lindsey Chavez, the team’s leading scorer (11.3 average). And senior reserve Micaela Blanchard added six of the 16 points produced by the bench.
“I thought our depth paid off with people contributing at different times,’’ Rossi said, singling out Blanchard, senior Monica Stokes and sophomore Alex Jaros, who combined for 13 points. “We teach depth. Depth’s important because in 3A you play three straight games in state.’’
Holy Family has a long way to go to maintain its early advantage in the Metro, arguably the toughest league in 3A. In fact, next up for the Tigers is a Wednesday date with Lutheran, ranked No.2 in 2A.
“It’s one of our tougher leagues in the last five years,’’ Rossi said. “There’s about four or five teams that could win state, and Machebeuf’s one of them.’’