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Rampart, Mountain Vista share similar road to girls' basketball success

March 3, 2014 Updated: March 3, 2014 at 8:30 pm

As recently as last season, the girls' basketball programs at Rampart and Mountain Vista weren't considered elite in Colorado.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday at No. 2 Rampart, one will advance to the 5A quarterfinals at the other's expense.

It's a story of mirroring successes based on belief in each other and a system at each school.

"The first thing we had to change in our culture was to get the players to believe in themselves," third-year Mountain Vista (20-3) coach Mike Willahan said. "Our school had been an afterthought in Continental League girls' basketball. That was my first job as a coach. Now, we believe we can win every time we step on the floor."

The past three seasons, Mountain Vista won first-round playoff games but was unable to advance. When the Golden Eagles beat Fort Collins, 62-38 on Feb. 28, it marked the program's first 20-win season since its inception in 2001.

Rampart (19-5) languished through the same fate, suffering through first-round losses in 2011 and 2012 before breaking through last year with a home playoff win against Rocky Mountain.

Now, both teams have broken through in the same season, finally getting beyond the second round. But only one will be able to advance to Thursday's quarterfinal against Grandview or Castle View at the Denver Coliseum.

And both think back to leaner times when a new coach implemented a different system and relied upon the players to take a leap of faith.

"To get anything accomplished, everyone has to buy in," said Megan Leatham, in her fourth year at Rampart. "Everyone has to be on the same page. Mountain Vista is very similar to us in many ways. We've progressed pretty much the same over the last few years."

Mountain Vista improved dramatically in the Continental League this season, winning nine of 11 games against the state's toughest competition that includes 5A powers Regis, Highlands Ranch and ThunderRidge - also based in Highlands Ranch - that have accounted for 12 state titles since 2000.

Previously, the Golden Eagles had never won more than five games in a league season.

"It's the toughest league in the state," Willahan said. "The caliber is second to none. You're either prepared to play or you get chewed up and spit out."

Still, Willahan isn't satisfied.

"We watched Highlands Ranch, Rock Canyon and ThunderRidge over the years, and we felt we were every bit as good," Willahan said. "This year, we got angry and still feel like we don't get the respect we deserve. We're playing with a chip on our shoulder, and there's not much more motivation needed for playing in the Sweet 16."


RAMPART (19-5)

6 p.m. Tuesday, Rampart High School

Last game: Mountain Vista beat Fort Collins 62-44. Rampart downed George Washington 62-38.

What to know: Both teams venture into uncharted territory by advancing to the round of 16. Mountain Vista, a Highlands Ranch-based school built in 2001, had never reached 20 wins until this season. Rampart, in its infancy, achieved 3A success in the late 1980s, but as a 5A program, had been overlooked after recent playoff successes by Palmer and Doherty. The Golden Eagles are led by sophomores Chelsea Pearson (12.3 points, 5.3 rebounds), Paige Keller (9.0 points. 6.6 rebounds), Molly McCabe (6.0 points, 7.7 rebounds) and Kristen Burr (4.0 points), with key contributions from seniors Maddy Whetstone (11.5 points) and Jordan Graff (8.4 points). Meanwhile, Rampart spreads the scoring around as well, highlighted by junior Cassidy Budge (17.5 points), sophomore Nicea Eliely (12.4 points) and senior Megan Kavalec (9.3 points).

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