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ARVADA — It has been a two-team race for the girls basketball Class 5A Jeffco League title for nearly a decade.
Ralston Valley and Lakewood has won or shared conference championship nine of the last 10 seasons. Arvada West snuck in with a league title in 2010, but beside that the Mustangs and Tigers have dominated the 5A Jeffco League.
“We are two great teams and it’s really fun to have another team like that in our league,” Lakewood senior Camilla Emsbo said after the Tigers took a 50-44 road victory against Ralston Valley on Jan. 26. “It’s great preparation for when it really counts at the end of the season.”
Ralston Valley, No. 2 in the latest CHSAANow.com 5A girls basketball rankings, and No. 8 Lakewood squared off for the second time this season with both atop of the 5A Jeffco standings once again.
“Coach Poisson also tells us, ‘Don’t play with emotion. Play with passion.’ Tonight we went out and played one play at a time,” said Lakewood senior Hannah Renstrom who finished with a 12 points, including a trio of 3-pointers. “We didn’t look at the game as a whole. I think we came together as a team really well.”
The Mustangs (14-2, 6-1 in league) took a 14-point victory against the Tigers (14-3, 6-1) as both teams opened up conference play just after winter break. Friday night Lakewood evened up the season series thanks to a key 10-0 run the second half to take the 6-point victory.
Renstrom ended the third quarter with a 3-pointer to tie things up at 36-36 heading the final quarter. Senior Jessica Woodhead and sophomore Nadia Trevizo each hit 3-pointers in the opening minutes of the fourth for the Tigers to give Lakewood its biggest lead of the night.
“This is what you play for,” said Emsbo, who grabbed the final rebound and spiked the basketball after the final buzzer sounded. “This is the win we’ve been looking for all season. This is exactly what we needed. I’m just so grateful that I’m on a team that can step up when they need to and get it done.”
The future Yale University basketball player led the Tigers with 19 points.
Ralston Valley was on a 15-game winning streak. A Mustang win and the path would be fairly clear for the team to repeat as conference champs and possibly go undefeated for the second straight year in league play.
However, Lakewood’s defense turned it up a notch after the first quarter. The Tigers put constant pressure on the ball and held Ralston Valley to a season-low 44 points.
“We are going to have to deal with pressure better,” Ralston Valley coach Jeff Gomer said of what he learned in the Mustangs’ first lost since their season opener against defending state champion Grandview. “Early we were attacking the basketball, but as the pressure ramped up we started playing sideways and backwards.”
Ralston Valley senior Delaynie Byrne had a game-high 22 points, but no other Mustang was able to reach double-digit points.
If Ralston Valley and Lakewood win their remaining five conference games they will share the league title.
“I think both (Lakewood and Ralston Valley) of us are looking a little further than that,” Gomer said of the league title. “We needed this. We haven’t had a close game in a long time.”
The Mustangs do have a pair of good tune-up non-league games before the start of the postseason. Ralston Valley hosts No. 7 Fruita Monument at 6 p.m. next Friday, Feb. 2. No. 10 Cherry Creek then hosts the Mustangs for an afternoon tilt on Saturday, Feb. 10.
Lakewood also has a challenging non-league game before the playoffs. The Tigers face 4A’s No. 6 Mesa Ridge on Feb. 10.
“You worry about the league stuff now because that is where we are at,” Lakewood coach Chris Poisson said. “We’ll worry about the tournament when we get there. We still have a month to go.”
While Lakewood finished second in 5A Jeffco last year, Poisson guided the Tigers to the program’s first state title game.
Grandview won that game, as the Tigers’ Cinderella story fell one win short on claiming a state title.
Of course Lakewood would love to get back to the state title game, and if Poisson had his choice he would love to have a third go-around against Ralston Valley.
“As long as it’s in the championship. I would love that,” Poisson said when asked if he would like to get Ralston Valley in the playoffs. “Jeff (Gomer) and I are such good friends. Ralston Valley’s girls are awesome. To make it an all-Jeffco championship would be my selfish goal.”
Dennis Pleuss is a communications specialist at Jeffco Public Schools with a focus on athletics and activities. For more Jeffco coverage, go to CHSAANow.com/Jeffco.
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