DENVER – With 46 seconds remaining in the Class 5A state championship game Saturday night, Michaela Onyenwere walked off the basketball court for the final time in her high school career to a standing ovation.
Grandview coach Josh Ulitzky was there to embrace her first. A short minute later, Onyenwere and her teammates stormed the floor at the Denver Coliseum to celebrate a 61-32 victory over Lakewood in the Class 5A state championship game – the first in the Wolves’ history.
“It was the last time ever, ever, ever – which is crazy – playing in Colorado for high school,” Onyenwere said after the game as the Grandview fans soaked in the moment above her. “It’s kind of surreal. It hasn’t hit me yet that my high school career is over, but I’m just glad we went out this way.”
Grandview (27-1) capped a postseason run where the team averaged 76 points in its five victories. Onyenwere finished with a game-high 25 points and eight rebounds, and the UCLA-bound senior is in the record books with 2,288 points for her career – good for fourth-best in state history.
“She was really good as a sophomore; really, really good as a junior,” Lakewood coach Chris Poisson said. “She is absolutely great as a senior. She is special. There is a reason why she is going where she is going. She is incredible.”
The Tigers (22-6) were playing in the state championship game for the first time as well. Lakewood entered the playoffs as the No. 9 seed, but upset No. 1 Highlands Ranch in the Great 8 and defeated Cherry Creek in the Final 4.
Camilla Emsbo led Lakewood with 20 points and Kira Emsbo added eight. Onyenwere, who drew the assignment of guarding Camilla, had high praise for the Tigers junior and her teammates.
“We never, ever underestimate anybody. We respect all,” Onyenwere said. “We all made it here for a reason, and they’re an amazing team.”
Lenzi Hudson added 10 points for Grandview and Leilah Vigil scored eight points and hauled in eight rebounds. The Wolves were undefeated a year ago before falling by two points to ThunderRidge in the state semifinals, which served as motivation for this season.
“We wanted it so bad,” Hudson said. “From last year, we did not want to experience that ever again. We knew how it felt.”
Lakewood fell behind early, but opened the second quarter with back-to-back field goals from Hannah Renstrom and Gaby Heayden to pull within five points. That’s as close as the Tigers got the rest of the way, as Grandview went on a 21-8 run to close out the first half.
Onyenwere had 21 of her points in the first half and was a perfect 8-for-8 from the floor and 5-for-5 from the free-throw line. She said the gameplan was to defend like the team had all year.
“If we do that without fouling, then there’s not a lot of people who can score on us,” Onyenwere said. “That’s kind of what our motto is – defense is going to win us championships. It showed here.”
After the game, Grandview coach Josh Ulitzky sat back and watched as his team celebrated with the fans, posing for pictures with the 5A trophy.
“I’m just really happy for the girls. They worked so hard,” Ulitzky said. “They had a tough end last year and they were determined to play for each other and play together.”
Lakewood graduates three seniors but returns the bulk of its rotation. The team’s four leading scorers are all juniors.
Grandview graduates three seniors as well in Onyenwere, Hudson and Kennede Brown. Onyenwere and Brown have been varsity mainstays all four years, and Hudson joined varsity as a sophomore.
“We had one goal at the beginning of the season, and nothing could stop us,” Hudson said. “This means everything to us. We made history today and from this game we will always be connected as a family.”