LITTLETON — Staying at the top of the heap is never easy.
Ralston Valley girls basketball team knows its will be a marked team every time it takes the court during the Class 5A Jeffco League schedule. The Mustangs are attempting to win their fourth straight conference title.
It wasn’t trouble-free, but Ralston Valley (5-2) took care of business Tuesday night in its league opener with a 60-51 road victory against Chatfield (2-4).
“It wasn’t the win we wanted to come out with, but with it just being out of the way we can build on it to improve,” said Ralston Valley junior Morgan Nishida, who led the Mustangs with a team-high 16 points.
The Mustangs held a single-digit lead for the majority of the game until a 3-point play by senior Chantal Jacobs early in the fourth quarter gave Ralston Valley a 49-39 lead. Jacobs had a strong second half scoring all 12 points after halftime.
Nishida and Jacobs combined to go 8-of-9 from the free-throw line in the final quarter to seal the victory. Freshmen Ashley Van Sickle (13 points) and Sydney Prey (12 points) had solid games for the Mustangs.
Ralston Valley coach Jeff Gomer was happy to take the victory to open league play, but saw plenty of areas for improvement.
“We played like we were young,” said Gomer, who started a pair of freshmen and a sophomore. “We just weren’t very patient. We are talented. We are just young, but we’ve got to learn fast.”
Gomer was without the services of seniors Sierra Galbreath and Amanda Lefholz. Galbreath has an injury that will keep her out for about a month. Lefholz was ill Tuesday and didn’t make the trip up to Chatfield High School.
“We are going to need (Galbreath and Lefholz) later in the season,” Nishida said. “I think we came in timid and scared tonight without them. We’ve just got to build our confidence.”
Chatfield had some confidence after taking a 10-8 lead after the first quarter. Seniors Emily Lachenmayer and Katie Glander each scored 10 points to lead the Chargers.
An attacking offensive style for Chatfield paid off with several trips to the foul line. The Chargers finished 16-of-27 from the charity stripe. Ralston Valley on the other hand made just three trips to the foul line before the fourth quarter.
“If you are aggressive and attack you never know,” Chatfield coach Mike Deutsch said of the Chargers’ advantage at the line. “You let the officials make the call. That was encouraging.”
Deutsch also doesn’t mind the fact that his team faced Ralston Valley and goes up against undefeated Lakewood at 7 p.m. Friday before winter break. The Tigers are undefeated on the season and entered the CHSAANow.com 5A girls’ hoops rankings this week at No. 7.
“I like going into January knowing kind what we have to do and what we are up against,” Deutsch said of facing the two favorites to win the conference title. “I think it’s an advantage. We can talk over winter break about what we need to work on.”
While Gomer wants this year’s squad to write its own chapter, he admits the conference success has put a target on its back.
“I know this,” said Gomer after the Mustangs stretched it conference-winning streak to 17 games dating back to last season. “Every time we step on the floor somebody wants a piece of us. That’s tough.”
To say Ralston Valley has dominated the 5A Jeffco League in recent years is an understatement. The Mustangs have a 31-1 conference record over the previous two seasons, only dropping their league finale to rival Arvada West during the 2011-12 season.
Ralston Valley rolled to a 16-0 league mark last year to claim its third straight 5A Jeffco championship.
Ralston Valley will continue its league journey on the road 7 p.m. Friday at Columbine.