Aspen girls bounce Olathe out of district tourney
The Aspen High School girls basketball team continued its two-year-plus home winning streak last night with a decisive 53-37 win over Olathe in the first round of the Western Slope District Tournament.
In what could be the last home game for the Aspen girls this season – depending on how the team fares today and Saturday in the final four in Grand Junction – senior captain Cory Reno knocked down five 3-pointers en route to a team-leading 19 points.
Reno connected from downtown in every quarter, leading No. 3 seed Aspen to a 27-18 lead at the half and a comfortable second-half victory over No. 6 seed Olathe.
With the win, Aspen advances to the district tournament’s final four, which begin this afternoon at Palisade High School in Grand Junction. Aspen plays No. 2 seed Roaring Fork, a team that bested No. 7 Rangely last night. Tip off is slated for 6:30 p.m. tonight. (A complete tournament bracket appears on page 28-A.)
“Olathe’s a real scrappy team – they make everybody play ugly basketball,” said Aspen coach Lance Finkbeiner after the game. “But we held our composure and Cory (Reno) made some big shots for us.”
Olathe forward Talitha Henderson scored 9 of her 12 points in the first quarter against Aspen, helping her team stake a 13-12 lead after the opening 8 minutes. But in the second quarter, Aspen settled into its game, and Olathe never regained the lead. Aspen stretched its lead to 16 points after the third quarter, and came out in a stall offense to protect that lead down the stretch.
Senior point guard Ellen Falender set the tone for the Aspen offense, helping break a relentless Olathe press all night, and from the charity stripe. The Class 3A assists leader, averaging 10 a game in the regular season, sank 7 of 10 from the free-throw line, finishing with 9 points total, while the Aspen team shot better than 73 percent, 17 for 23.
Aspen sophomore center Lizzie Suiter added 9 points for Aspen, while juniors Zara Podolak knocked down 7 and Muriel Hale netted 5.
“I was really happy to see Ellen (Falender) and Cory (Reno) have good nights,” Finkbeiner said. “Senior leadership is important this time of year.”
After the game, Reno humbly said Aspen’s defense was the key to victory last night. “They’re tough,” she said. “And they made us play more aggressively.”
Finkbeiner said the team’s goal is to win the district tournament. First, Aspen will have to beat Roaring Fork tonight, a team that handed Aspen its first loss in league play by a decisive 20-point margin Feb. 9. A win tonight will guarantee Aspen a berth to the regional tournament. And should Aspen win the district tourney outright Saturday, Aspen will host its regional game against a lesser seed. Likewise, the same goes for Roaring Fork.
“In the locker room (after the game), I reminded the girls that we haven’t lost at home for two years,” Finkbeiner said. “And if we win (the district tourney), we’ve got a good chance of going to state.”
“We want revenge on Roaring Fork,” Reno said after the game. “We have nothing to lose.”
Aspen, last year’s 3A Western Slope League Champions, District Tournament Champions, and the runner-up in the State Championships, has the advantage of experience, Falender pointed out after the game.
“This is our last chance,” she said. “We want to defend our championship.”
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