No. 2 Air Academy girls basketball enjoying the journey to get to state playoffs

Air Academy Lewis-Palmer girls basketball

(Dan Mohrmann/CHSAANow.com)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY — Air Academy girls basketball coach Phil Roiko can't help himself. His eyes are constantly glued to CHSAANow.com, checking polls and RPI ratings.

"Probably a little too much, according to my wife," Roiko says with a laugh.

Privately, he stays very up to date as to where his girls rank. With only days left in the 2017-18 regular season, every point, every position change can have an impact on where his No. 2 Kadets will fall on the bracket. He'll look Thursday morning when the results of Air Academy's 49-42 over Lewis-Palmer is factored in.

But he never discusses any of this with the team.

"We haven't," he said. "There are so many outside pressures and pressure you can put on yourself, that we just talk about the journey. Enjoying one game at a time, one practice at a time. Enjoying being together and seeing how good we can get."

It's been a heck of a journey this year.

Air Academy Lewis-Palmer girls basketball

(Dan Mohrmann/CHSAANow.com)

The Kadets (21-1 overall, 13-0 Pikes Peak Athletic Conference) have played good basketball this season. They've averaged nearly 46 points per game over the course of this season. But the strength of the team lies on the defensive side of the ball. When a team averages 46 points on offense but only surrenders 32 per game on defense, it's not hard to see why many regard it as a top team in the state.

"We do take pride in our defense," senior Mary Parchinski said. "We help each other out, we get backside help and cover for each other."

Wednesday night, Air Academy was looking to remain unbeaten in PPAC play, hosting Lewis-Palmer. The Kadets had gotten the better of the Rangers earlier in the year, but the 48-29 score is a little misleading.

It was a two-point game heading into the fourth quarter before Air Academy pulled away. The Rangers came out strong at the start of the game, grabbing an early 9-3 lead. The conference foes battled back and forth with the Kadets taking the lead at halftime only to head into the fourth quarter down one.

They eventually got the win, but had to fight and earn it, something that hasn't happened in about two weeks. With playoff brackets out this weekend, it may have been the right time for the Kadets to have to battle a bit.

"It was really good for us to come out against a team that gave us a really good game," junior Liza Louthan said. "We were a little complacent in the beginning and then we started to pull ahead. You need a game like that coming into the playoffs because not all of them are going to be easy."

Championship level teams are the ones who are able to not lose sight of their ultimate goal and battle through some adversity en route to achieving it. Perhaps what was most impressive about the Kadets in the win was their ability to maintain composure when things weren't going their way.

"At this time of year, because we had already played this team, we know what they're good at," Parchinski said. "Just having to adjust when they are hot and knocking down those shots is really important for us do."

Air Academy hosts Cheyenne Mountain Friday night to conclude regular season play. After that, the fate of the team will be handed to the 4A basketball seeding committee. In years past, the brackets are released the Sunday following the state wrestling tournament.

If anyone needs Roiko at that time, he'll be in front of his computer, examining the bracket as a whole. He'll start figuring how his girls will work their way the maze of teams and hopefully emerge as a state champion.

He has no problem looking at the big picture as long as his players know that in order achieve their desired result, they have to go on the journey. And hopefully, they continue to enjoy it.