Runner-up finish motivated Evergreen to back-to-back girls basketball state titles

DENVER — The pain of a 55-40 loss to Class 4A Jeffco rival Valor Christian two years ago is now a distance memory for Evergreen’s girls basketball program.

“I try to think about it, but it seems so long ago,” Evergreen junior Claudia Dillon said of the 4A title game loss to Valor on March 12, 2016. As a freshman, Dillon fouled out on an offensive foul call with 5:49 left in the fourth quarter in a 6-point game at the time. “I do have a picture in my room of that last foul that I sometimes look at, but it’s OK. I got these two.”

What Dillon and the Cougars have now are back-to-back 4A state titles with consecutive championship victories over Pueblo South in 2017 and 2018. After never advancing to a state championship game in the program’s history, Evergreen has now played in three straight title games and racked up a remarkable 75-9 record under coach Amy Bahl during the three-season run.

Evergreen's Kristina Schreiber (4) is one of seven graduating seniors for the Cougars. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)

Another eye-popping fact is the Cougars have lost just one game over the past three years to a non-Jeffco team. Holy Family defeated Evergreen early this season in a non-league game.

“We like the unfamiliarity a little bit,” Bahl said explaining how her team has just one loss to a non-Jeffco team over the past three years. “Playing teams that might not know us that well and we are able to execute our stuff a little bit better. Honestly, I don’t do anything differently or crazy. We do the little things good.”

Playing in the tough 4A Jeffco League has also been a tool used toward Evergreen’s success. A team in the conference has won the 4A state title the past four years and a Jeffco team has played in the 4A title game in 6-of-7 championship games dating back to the 2012 title game.

“It’s definitely shocking,” Evergreen senior Meriel Hahn said of Evergreen’s success against non-Jeffco teams. “We know we have a really competitive conference. Winning our conference this year really prepared us for this tournament and another state championship.”

Hahn, who had strong games in both championship games the past two years, believes the loss to Valor in Boulder two years ago motivated this group of seven seniors to go out as back-to-back state champions.

Evergreen's stellar defense didn't allow any opponent to reach 40 points in all five playoff games. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)

“It helped a lot,” Hahn said of the loss to Valor in 2016. “It definitely sucks to get this far and lose. Hardly anybody gets the chance to win your last game (senior year). That is what we really wanted. We wanted to show that we could go out with a win.”

Bahl also used the final prep game for Evergreen’s seven seniors in her pregame speech.

“I told the seniors, ‘This is your last game. You know when your last game is. A lot of seniors don’t get a chance to do that. How do you want to end your last game?’” Bahl said. “And they came out on point and on fire.”

Evergreen never trailed against Pueblo South. The Cougars showed their determination and heart by out-rebounding the Colts 49-18. Dillon and Hahn both put up double-doubles in points and rebounds.

Senior guards Kristina Schreiber and Gaylee Galan-Browne added nine points each to seal the victory.

“I’ve played with these girls since middle school. To be able to bring this home to our fans, family and the city of Evergreen is amazing,” Galan-Browne said while clutching the 4A state trophy. “This is a crazy experience. Who would have thought this? Everyone wanted to beat us and we beat everyone when it counted.”

Evergreen's girls basketball coach Amy Bahl has guided the Cougars to a 75-9 record over the past three seasons. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)