The Air Academy girls’ basketball team had its toughest test of the season Saturday when last year’s Class 4A state runner-up Pueblo South came to town in a matchup between two of the state’s top teams.
The Kadets, No. 1 in the RPI standings, remained undefeated with a 42-39 victory over the No. 4 Colts, who made things interesting with a furious fourth-quarter rally.
Air Academy junior Kylee Blacksten scored 12 points and added 10 rebounds, while sophomore point guard Annie Louthan contributed 10 points in the victory.
The Kadets (22-0, 13-0 Pikes Peak Athletic Conference) host Vista Ridge Thursday in their season finale.
“The state championship is always a goal; that’s the maximum thing we want,” said Blacksten, a 6-foot-3 guard/co-captain. “Going into this season, we set little goals that we’ve worked up to, and then that big goal of winning a state championship is always there.”
The Kadets’ pursuit of perfection began Nov. 27 with a 68-22 victory over The Classical Academy. Air Academy has won 12 game by at least 25 points, smothering opponents with a stifling defense and quick movement offense.
“We can’t think about the target on our back and we have to go out and play like every team we play is the No. 1 team,” said senior guard/co-captain Zoe Sims. “We have to practice intentionally continue to try and be the best team we can.”
Air Academy will know its postseason roadmap when brackets are released on Sunday. The top 16 seeds receive first-round byes in the 48-team tournament. The Kadets would be at home through the quarterfinals.
This season is no fluke, Last winter, Air Academy was 24-2 and had a 21-game winning streak before losing to eventual state champion Evergreen in the quarterfinals. Evergreen also won the state championship in 2017.
“We don’t really talk much about being undefeated,” said Kadets coach Phil Roiko. “Our motto is one game at a time and treat every game like a one-game season.”
The Kadets have proven they are the No. 1 team by defeating three of the top 5 teams in the RPI standings. They downed No. 3 Holy Family by 15 on Nov 30, and No. 2 Pueblo West by eight on Dec. 15.
“Success and failure are hard to deal with because you have to perform every game,” said Kadets senior guard/co-captain Liza Louthan. “We know that every team is going to give us their best game. The biggest thing that’s helped us is that we’re very unselfish.
“All five starters. Everybody on the bench. Nobody is doing it for themselves. We’re doing it for each other.”
Louthan’s younger sister, Annie, is a sophomore point guard and one of the first players off the bench.
One of the most pivotal games for the Kadets was a 50-43 victory at Cheyenne Mountain on Jan. 16. On paper, Air Academy should have easily handled the Indians, but the game was close to the end.
“We can’t go in cocky,” said senior shooting guard/co-captain Heaven Hall. “We have to act like every team is a big threat. We have to be humbled by everything.”
If Air Academy wins the state championship it would be the second in school history. The 2011-12 team went 26-2 under Bob Wingett. Roiko was an assistant coach on that team, which included his daughter Kellyn, the Louthans’ older sister, Kate, and current assistant coach Kauna Kama.