Grand Valley sends its first girls team to state
GRAND JUNCTION – As the time ticked to double zeroes on the scoreboard, Grand Valley High School senior Julianne Jones finally allowed herself to smile.And there was plenty of reason for that smile. Jones and her teammates were headed to the state high school basketball championships after whipping Dolores High School 55-33 in the Class 2A Western Regional basketball playoffs at Grand Junction High School.Jones and her teammates cried and hugged, and cried some more. Friends and family swarmed them, and a horde of well-wishers wearing red and black stormed the court in excitement over the history-making victory. This is the first time a girls team from Grand Valley had qualified for the state tournament.”It’s awesome. I can’t believe it,” Jones said with a smile that seemed as wide as the Colorado National Monument. “We finally did it.”The Cardinals did it with a balanced scoring attack and a high-octane defense that got better as the game got older.Jessica Cielatka led Grand Valley with a dozen points, while Megan Johnson scored 10 and Jones eight.Defensively, the Cardinals flat out got after it. Big time. With a variety of presses and double-teams, the Cardinals baffled and confused the Dolores players, forcing 25 turnovers, many that led to easy Grand Valley buckets.Every Dolores shot was contested. Just about every Dolores pass was tipped, stolen or thrown away. That brought a smile a sixth-year Grand Valley head coach Mike Johnson.”That’s what kind of made us all year,” Johnson said. “We’re a very good defensive team, and that ignites our offense.”As the Cardinals celebrated, Dolores’ Abbie Gilstrap buried her face in a towel. Some tried to console the sophomore, who led the Bears with 11 points, but they had about as much luck as the Bears did with the Cardinals’ smothering defense.The tears of losing sting, and they linger. That’s something Jones and her teammates know about, having suffered a similar fate the past three seasons.But not this time.”I knew this morning (Saturday) that we would win,” the three-year starter said as she fought back a wave of emotion.Jones sees her team as a true contender for the state title, but she would never say it out loud. To speak these truths would be to risk destroying them.Cielatka helped the Cardinals race to a 17-7 lead in the first quarter with a 3-point bomb from the top of the key. Grand Valley held Dolores to two points on a pair of free throws in the second quarter, and then the Cardinals put it away early in the third period.Dolores got a spark in the opening moments of the third, when Gilstrap scored a quick bucket and then caused a turnover that led to a good scoring chance.But a 7-0 run on a bucket by Melinda Johnson, two free throws from Jones and another long-range missile from the top of the key by Cielatka squashed any comeback hopes.”We didn’t want to leave any doubts,” Johnson said. “We deserve to be in the state tournament.”Johnson knew it. Now she can say it out loud.
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