DENVER — After back-to-back years of falling in the 3A state semifinals, The Vanguard School’s girls basketball team got past its Final Four block.

The No. 5 Coursers sailed past area foe No. 9 Ellicott 59-36 to punch their ticket in the state championship game. Vanguard is 21-5 overall and has won seven games in a row.

A year ago, Vanguard lost to University High School of Greeley in the semifinals. And in 2021, it was Parker Lutheran that sent the Coursers home.

Postseason heartbreakers in the prior two seasons made them stronger this time around.

“This year we just really took it. We just had to be stronger than them,” senior Juliana Garcia said. “We’ve matured and gained experience from that and have been able to step up in these situations.”

In addition to the state semifinals being a familiar stop for Vanguard, Ellicott was a familiar opponent.

The teams played twice earlier this season, with Vanguard winning both times. And, with the campuses of The Vanguard School and Ellicott separated by only 28 miles, both teams' players’ familiarity extends long before this season.

“I think we’ve played them since seventh grade,” senior Hailey Blanchard said.

Vanguard’s coach Scott Arrasmith worried that his team would be nervous. Between semifinal exits in back-to-back seasons and Ellicott being a formidable district opponent, he expected it to be a difficult matchup.

If there were any nerves, they didn’t show. Vanguard led the entire game, steadily increasing its advantage until the buzzer sounded on their 26-point win.

The coach believes the group’s veteran leadership helped settle any big-game jitters.

“This group of seniors is experienced,” Arrasmith said. “They help lead the girls and show them the way.”

The Coursers were particularly strong defensively and on the glass. Between key rebounds and steals, they scored several baskets in transition, helping them hold and extend their lead.

“We went into the game talking about how we need to get stops on defense and rebounds,” Blanchard said. “Our offense will come to us — it always comes to us. If we can get stops and rebound the ball, we’ll be good.”

Blanchard led Vanguard in scoring with 13 points, while Jordyn Christensen added 12. Six other Coursers also scored.

For Ellicott, Alyssa Lagasse led the Thunderhawks with 16 points.

Ellicott finishes the year 20-6. The Thunderhawks defeated Liberty Common, North Fork and Buena Vista in the 3A playoffs before falling to Vanguard.

Vanguard will battle Vanguard will battle Colorado Springs Christian in the state title game. CSCS defeated St. Mary’s 33-29 on Friday to earn its berth into the state championship game. The Coursers played both of those teams during the regular season. Vanguard went 1-1 against CSCS and lost its only meeting against St. Mary’s.

The state title game will be the biggest game for any of Vanguard’s players — but they feel ready.

“We have to step up, take the opportunity that’s ahead of us and help each other through it,” Garcia said. “As long as we’re working together and doing it as a team, we’ll be ready.”

Blanchard said, “It’s one more game. We’ve been here, we know we can do it. We just have to work hard and want it more than they do.”