COLORADO SPRINGS — Mike Burkett wants his St. Mary's girls basketball team to start fast. They did not disappoint him in their conference opener against Vanguard.
Not only did the Class 3A No. 1 Pirates start fast, but they remained - and finished strong - in an 82-39 win over the No. 7 Coursers.
The night started with aggressive defense creating turnover, ultimately giving senior Josephine Howery plenty lanes to attack the basket as well as open looks from 3-point range. Howery connected early and often and finished the night scoring 41, a St. Mary's girls basketball record.
"She had the matchup she wanted so she took it to the basket," Burkett said. "She's able to shoot. Actually, she's been shooting well all week. So kudos to her."
When the Pirates (7-1 overall, 1-0 Tri-Peaks) started attacking the Coursers 2-3 zone they converted on their early shots. They immediately countered with a 3/4 court press which gave a Vanguard lineup that consists of one senior and one junior fits all night.
"We came out aggressive," St. Mary's senior Seneca Hackley said. "There was a lot of talk around this game before the game even had started. So we just came out with a lot of fire and a lot of energy and defense is where it starts."
In what felt like the blink of an eye, the Pirates had built a 21-5 lead. An experienced Pirates roster that boasts back-to-back state championships moved the ball well against the zone and if they weren't getting baskets down low, it seemed like Howery had been set to automatic before the opening tip.
She finished the first half with 26 points of her eventual record-setting 41.
"I couldn't do it without my teammates," Howery said. "I couldn't do it without them finding me and hitting some shots."
Ellie Hartman added 14 points and Brooklyn Valdez scored 12.
By no means does this loss change what Vanguard coach Scott Arrasmith thinks about his team. The Coursers (6-1, 0-1) started the season on a six-game winning streak before entering the pirate ship that houses the treasure of 3A's two most recent state titles.
"We're a young team," Arrasmith said. "We have one senior and one junior. We play a lot of freshmen and sophomores. I think we learned from it and we'll grow from it."
The Coursers earned some respect this week as they broke into the 3A girls top 10 and the result from Thursday night won't necessarily question if Vanguard is for real, but rather if St. Mary's can be beaten. The one loss of the season for the Pirates came against defending 5A champion Cherry Creek.
But this team is not going to let a big win against Vanguard or a tight battle against the Bruins get to their heads. They know that they'll get their best shot from each opponent for the rest of the year, so the goal between now and the middle of March is to maintain the focus that has brought home two championship trophies.
"We just try to like stay close and try to block out all the talk," Hackley said. "We have to keep working no matter what. We just need to go out and play our game every single night."
That was the approach on Wednesday night. The end result was a conference win and a memorable record-setting scoring performance.