The Ignacio High School basketball teams found out their respective opponents for the Class 2A Great 8 state basketball tournament when the brackets were released on Sunday.
The Ignacio boys (18-4) team scored an upset over No. 4 Mancos 58-50 in Saturday’s Class 2A Region 8 championship game in Mancos. Ignacio entered the regional as the No. 13 seed, and after taking home another regional title, the Bobcats were re-seeded for the state championship.
Ignacio earned the No. 8 seed and will face top-seed Highland (23-1) of Ault in Weld County at 8:30 p.m. Thursday at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland. Highland finished runners-up in last season’s tournament 2A tournament. The Bobcats faced Highland once before in the state tournament, as the Huskies beat IHS for the consolation championship game in 2018.
Ignacio head coach Chris Valdez called Saturday’s win over Mancos a special performance, because few outsiders thought the Bobcats were good enough to reach the Great 8.
“This group has come so far in such a short span,” Valdez said on Saturday. “Last year, we lost two games at districts and didn’t go to regionals for the first time in 20 years. We didn’t win a district championship that year or this year. So this is some, I don’t know, maybe divine intervention. Somebody wanted us back up there, and we’re going to work our butts off and give them our best. That’s all we can do. We earned the right to be there.”
Highland also earned the right to reach the Great 8. The Huskies won the Region 2 championship on Saturday with a 65-63 win over No. 15 Holly. The Huskies’ lone loss came against 3A power Eaton in a 90-89 loss in December. Since that loss, the Huskies have rattled off 19 consecutive wins and have put up over 100 points on two different occasions this season.
The Huskies are loaded with scorers and are led by senior Tate Bessire, who averages 23.8 points per game, while his younger brother, Jase, a junior, averages 18.5 points per game. Bowen Tolle averages 14.8, and Holden Morgan is also a double-digit scorer, as he averages 11.8 points per game.
Ignacio is led by Bryce Finn, who averages 11.8 points per game, but was held to just two points in the regional championship game. Meanwhile, junior point guard Brady McCaw stepped up and scored a game-high 24 points in Saturday’s win over Mancos. He is the team’s second-leading scorer, averaging 11.8 points per game. Triston Thompson has been lethal from beyond the arc, averaging 9.2, while senior Ocean Hunter is just behind Thompson at 9.1 per game.
Girls basketballThe Ignacio High School girls basketball team also learned its quarterfinal opponent on Sunday in the Class 2A girls basketball state tournament.
The Bobcats (18-5) topped No. 9 Rocky Ford 43-28 Saturday in Ignacio in the Class 2A Region 4 championship game to reach the Great 8. The Bobcats last qualified in 2018. Ignacio entered the regional as the No. 8 seed, but after No. 23 Holly stunned No. 7 Simla in the Region 7 championship game, and No. 14 Wray upset No. 3 Meeker, the Bobcats knew there was an opportunity to boost their seed.
After the re-seed on Sunday, Ignacio moved up one spot. IHS earned the No. 7 seed and will take on No. 2 Holyoke (22-1) in the quarterfinal at 7 p.m. Thursday, also at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland. Interestingly, IHS head coach Justa Whitt called out Holyoke on Saturday as a team she didn’t want her Bobcats to face in the first round. The teams have played each other before at the state tournament. In 2018’s consolation game, the Dragons pulled off a 45-35 win.
“The sky is the limit,” Whitt said on Saturday. “Because of the upsets, seeding will play a huge role. Any time we’ve ever gone before, we’ve always been the eighth seed and have opened up against the No. 1 (seed). We don’t want to see Holyoke the first game because they’ll likely be the top seed, and we know they’re one of the best teams.”
Whitt said the Bobcats’ chemistry is unique, as many of the girls have played with each other since fourth grade. She believes that will only help the Bobcats at state.
But no matter who we play, I think there’s no question that these girls can hang. The chemistry between the girls is remarkable. Half the time on the bench, I’m asking them ‘Well, what do you girls think?’ They’re the ones working it out, and that’s a key, I think. To play at this level, you have to work it out together on the court and figure out how they’re going to win.”
Ignacio is on a 15-game winning streak and is led by senior captain Makayla Howell, who averages 8 per game. Sophomore Avaleena Nanaeto averages 6.4, while Charlize Valdez is at 6.1 per game. Ignacio’s defense has been phenomenal this season, giving up just 26.5 points per game, while the offense has averaged 48.5 points per game.
Holyoke’s lone loss came against top-seeded Limon. The Dragons have won their last 13 games and are also on a roll entering the state tournament. Sophomore Kristin Viselmeyer has averaged 14.0 per game, Lauren Herman is the team’s second-leading scorer with 9.6, while Emily Jelden is averaging 6.6 per game.