Cardinals ready for Great Eight matchup |

Cardinals ready for Great Eight matchup

Joelle Milholm
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Kelley Cox Post Independent

PARACHUTE ” When Kendall Babler moved to Parachute last summer and officially traded being a Rifle Bear to be a Grand Valley Cardinal, she was hoping she and her new teammates would be in the position they are in right now ” heading the Class 2A girls state basketball tournament.

“This summer when I practiced with them, it seemed like they all had their mind set that they wanted to do this,” said the senior point guard. “So from day one of summer we were like let’s get to work and do it.”

After a Western Slope League and Western Regional Championships, the Cardinals are one of eight teams still standing. For the Cardinals, this is their third state tournament appearance in four years after missing the show last season. For Babler, who ranks among 2A state leaders in points (16.5), steals (5.94) and assists (9.06) per game, she’s having the best season in her high school career.

With Rifle, Babler and the 4A Bears made it to the Great Eight in the 2006-07 season, but this is the furthest she’s gone.

“I am excited because in 4A we go through the Sweet 16 and stuff so I have never gone through districts, then regionals then the state tournament. I have never gone to the state tournament,” she said. “It’s always been the Sweet 16 and last year we made it to the Great Eight but we never made it to the big gym to play, so it is pretty exciting.”

While changing schools her senior year wasn’t easy, Babler said that playing basketball in Parachute has been worth it. After all, the Cardinals are 17-4 and still eligible to win their first state championship.

The quest will begin today, bright and early, at 8:45 a.m. when No. 6-seeded Grand Valley takes on No. 3-seeded Holyoke (22-1) at Massari Arena at Colorado State University in Pueblo.

“I think we are pretty confident,” said Grand Valley senior post Whitney Ashcraft after a 36-27 Western Regional Championship win over Mancos on Saturday. “I think we will be the No. 5 or No 6. seed and I think we can do well at that spot.”

Grand Valley head coach Mike Johnson, who is in his ninth year with the team, has been down this road before having taken the Cardinals to their first two state basketball tournaments in school history. In 2005, Grand Valley finished sixth. In 2006, the Cards lost in the first round and again in the consolation first round.

This year, he’s got a different team, which has its strengths and weaknesses.

“This will be the best group of guards I have taken. I don’t know if we are quite as balanced, certainly not as balanced offensively as before,” Johnson said. “There are years I have felt like I have taken all post players over and now this year I feel like I am taking all guards and maybe one true post player.”

Joining Babler as guards are players like Erin Vanderpool, Kasi Jensen, Lauren Schubert, Lyndsey Tonder and Sherry Mlakar. Ashcraft, the tallest player on the team at 5-foot-10, is Johnson’s only true post, but others can fill in under the basket as well.

While the Cardinals have the ability to fast break with the best of the them and Babler is always a threat from 3-point range, Johnson feels Grand Valley’s defense is its best attribute.

“If we can put both (offense and defense) together, we’ll be pretty tough,” he said.

The road to the championship won’t be easy for any team in Pueblo. Including Holyoke’s 22-1 record, there are three teams in the tournament that have one loss or fewer (Simla 22-0, Rocky Ford 22-1) as well as last year’s runner-up Wray (17-6).

“I think that state is as deep as its ever been. I think anyone in the top eight could go,” Johnson said.

Despite the 8:45 a.m. start, the Cardinals are planning to take it to Holyoke, knowing it’s time to go big or go home.

“You either show up or you don’t. You don’t get two chances, three chances, you have to show up your first game,” Babler said. “If we show up I think we’ll be good.”

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