Want some adversity? Perhaps no one in recent years knows it better than Lewis-Palmer and Wasson.
Far different types of adversity, though.
Before it won last season’s 4A boys’ state championship, Lewis-Palmer fell in the semifinal round three consecutive years.
Then there’s Wasson, a team on a mission following the Feb. 6 decision by District 11 administration to close and repurpose the 54-year-old building after the school year. That came four years after the school survived the chopping block the first time.
So maybe it’s fitting that the Rangers (23-3) and Thunderbirds (25-1) collide at 5:30 p.m. Friday at the Coors Events Center in Boulder for a berth in Saturday’s championship game. There’s nothing like a little adversity to strengthen a team, on both sides.
“Our guys understand there’s a price to be paid to get to the final four,” Lewis-Palmer coach Russ McKinstry said. “We understand adversity is part of that process. I stress that daily, that you’re going to face adversity in this game. You have to stick with it.”
While the Rangers have reached the 4A semifinals the past five years, Wasson is making its deepest playoff run since winning the 3A state crown in 1978. As the Thunderbirds ride a 20-game winning streak and wave of emotion from the groundswell of support, even Rangers players realize the magnitude of the situation.
“They’re a great team,” Rangers senior Justin Smith said. “With their school closing, they have extra motivation. I’m sure they’re all really excited.”
But let’s not forget, Lewis-Palmer is the defending champion with plenty of experience in big games. Smith should know. His 3-pointer in the final seconds provided the winning margin in the Rangers’ victory over Sierra on March 10, 2012, for their first state title since 1994.
That came after semifinal losses to Sierra in 2009, 2010 and Sterling in 2011.
“We have several players on this team that were in the final four and in the championship game last year, and it’s a big stage,” Smith said. “The nerves can get to you. We’ve learned to play with poise and confidence, and we have to trust in the fact that we’ve put in hard work and countless hours all season and that it’ll all pay off.”
In Wasson, McKinstry sees parts of two teams that sent Lewis-Palmer to losses during the regular season.
“They have the depth, quickness and athleticism of Sand Creek (a 67-64 loss Feb. 5) and also have the outstanding guard play of D’Evelyn (won at Lewis-Palmer, 73-68 on Dec. 20). With their balance, and their 6-10 kid (Larenz Stalcup) who is playing better every week, that makes them viable to go all the way.”
And for adversity? That’s a guarantee in a game that pits two teams that play an up-tempo offense and depend on defense and turnovers to swing the momentum.
“Once the ball is tipped, that emotion fades away,” McKinstry said. “Now, it’s a ball game. I know our players are ready. We want it just as badly as they do.”