BOULDER -- If there was any question as to just how good the Regis Jesuit Raiders were, it was answered when they held a talented Fossil Ridge team without a field goal in the first quarter.
Senior Diani Akigbogun’s 21 points paced the Raiders to their second consecutive state championship with a 60-34 win over SaberCats Saturday at the Coors Events Center. An early 10-0 run ignited the Raiders who also kept constant pressure on Fossil Ridge defensively.
And they were good defensively.
A punishing first half saw Regis hold the SaberCats to only 13 points and two field goals. Fossil Ridge also committed 12 turnovers in the first two quarters, paving the way for an 18-point lead for the Raiders that would only grow in the second half.
“That’s been one of our biggest staples all year; everyone talks about how offensive these kids are and how talented they are, but our defensive unit is fantastic,” Raider coach Carl Mattei said. “We change our presses up and we work well together. We broke the game up into eight different quarters and little games and we wanted to win each game and contest each shot.”
The state championship for the Raiders concludes a season of dominance against Colorado teams. The Raiders faced teams from outside the state while playing in the Nike Tournament of Champions in December where they suffered one of their two losses on the season, dropping their first game of the tournament to Long Beach Poly. Their second loss came in the Coaches vs. Cancer Shootout where lost to the Incarnate Word Academy out of St. Louis.
But they owned the competition inside the state of Colorado. Their toughest game proved to be a 13-point win over Horizon back on Dec. 13. But their average margin of victory totaled out to be over 40 points a game, cementing their status as one of the most dominant teams in Colorado history.
“It feels great, it just feels so amazing to come out here and have played with so much heart and so much passion and to come out on top,” senior Justine Hall said. “We gave it our everything out on the court, we just came ready to play and we came out on top. We knew we had to key on Savannah (Smith), one of their best players, and we just had to play really tight (defense).”
Saturday’s win completes a four-year journey for Hall, as well as Akigbogun, Anna Ptasinski, Neffie Lockley and Kelsi Lidge who all contributed greatly to the program in their time with the Raiders.
Mattei couldn’t ask for a better ending for those seniors, who have put together a very memorable run in their time with the program.
“They’re just incredible. To go 101-11 and play a national schedule and with every one of these kids to go play in college, it’s a special group,” Mattei said. “It’s like my 2009 group. We had seven and went to one state, it took five years to get back but I am so proud of these kids.”
For the SaberCats, their story is far from over. Though they lose plenty of talent in Smith, they return the bulk of their team next and should be in position to contend for a state title once again.
And while the sting of Saturday’s loss will hurt, coach Chad Salz knows that there is no shame in losing to the Raiders.
“With six Division I players, (Regis) is pretty darn good,” SaberCats coach Chad Slaz said. “We came out scared and timid and it showed in the first quarter score. We just dug ourselves a hole and it’s hard to dig out of it the all game against a team like that.”
For Salz and the SaberCats there’s always next year, but Saturday is all about the accomplishments for the Raiders. Taking the early lead allowed them to control the pace of the game leave little doubt as to the outcome.
Their dominance they showed through the course of the season will become the stuff of legends when enough time has passed for reflection. But there’s plenty of time to ponder how this team will be remembered. Saturday the Regis Jesuits Raiders got enjoy being the queens of basketball in Colorado for the second straight year. And nothing can take that feeling away from them.