Mobbed by teammates Hilda Garcia and Alejandra Lujan immediately after smashing away what could have been a game-tying three-pointer by Norwood star Jordan Williams – sealing a 39-36 win over the defending Class 1A State Champions in the previous Friday’s home finale – Ignacio’s Ellie Seibel couldn’t help but consider the moment’s ongoing impact after helping the Lady Bobcats mob the 2A-District 3 Tournament’s first-place plaque on Saturday, Feb. 28.
“Oh God, it was awesome!” said the junior forward. “It meant everything to us.”
“But one thing that was really stressed was you can’t do this with a single person,” she added, after IHS’ title-clinching crushing of Mancos inside Montezuma-Cortez’s Ron Wright Memorial Gymnasium. “Like, we wanted this for Sky [lone senior Cotton], but we also wanted it for us.”
And still sizzling from upsetting the vaunted Lady Mavericks – they’d then concluded the regular season by thrashing Telluride the next afternoon, 62-13, inside the MinerDome – Ignacio was far and away, the dual-classification San Juan Basin League’s pre-eminent posse when the postseason began on the February 27.
Dolores, who’d eliminated THS by 50 in the all-or-nothing ‘pigtail’ three nights earlier, had the unfortunate luck of being next to fall at the Lady Bobcats’ claws in the event’s semifinals.
Lady Bear head coach Larry Schwartz was pressed into an urgent timeout, with 3:34 left in the first quarter, after Cotton canned a three-pointer for a 10-1 Ignacio advantage. But the writing was already on DHS’ wall; the bracket’s 1-seed led 18-6 after the frame, with Seibel booking her first five points and Garcia her opening four, and would take a 31-18 lead into halftime.
Shane Seibel’s SJBL-best bunch had destroyed Dolores by 32 points and dodged them by seven in their regular-season meetings, and after Garcia drained a triple beginning the third quarter there was little doubting the sort of outcome finalizing the teams’ third go-round.
Garcia, Ignacio’s outstanding freshman forward, finished the quarter with nine points – the Lady Bears (now 7-15 overall) managed just two Nicole Kibel free throws, by comparison – and totaled a game-high 20 in a 67-29 rampage, in which every Lady Cat utilized scored at least two points.
Junior guard Chrystianne Valdez, having recovered from a late-season concussion while also battling nagging lower-back issues, came off the bench to net ten for the victors. Cotton and Ellie Seibel each registered eight, while starting junior guard Cortney Baker scored six (before fouling out with 5:57 remaining) as did reserve forward Gibran Silva.
Junior guard Larissa Umberger’s six points, coming from eight FT tries, and senior center Taylor Elder’s six (she hit two of four FT’s) paced the defeated. Kibel, a junior guard, and sophomore reserve guard Madi Archuleta each chipped in five points.
Facing upstart MHS the next afternoon, rather than 2-seed Ridgway (stunned 48-43 by the Lady Jays in the other semi), the Lady Cats rode Cotton’s eight first-quarter points to lead the #3 Lady Jays 12-8 after eight minutes.
And despite inspired backcourt play from senior Taylor Goff and sophomore Nicole Hess, who each netted a team-best 12 points, Mancos was all but done after Garcia buried three treys in the second – helping increase IHS’ lead to 29-18 at intermission.
“Oh it was so big! Even from a freshman!” said Ellie Seibel. “Like … it’s hard to describe!”
“Hilda is huge for us, coming up on threes; we’d be struggling without her,” Cotton agreed. “Every one of us has a job, and we executed perfectly.”
And things only got better during the third and fourth quarters in which Ignacio, again getting production from all nine in uniform, continued a growing trend of scoring. Garcia cashed in nine points (of her game-best 21) during the Lady Bobcats’ 18-point third, while freshman ‘sixth man’ Avionne Gomez netted six (of her eight) to drive the team’s 19-point fourth.
The Lady Jays (9-11) managed just 22 points during the tell-all sixteen regulation minutes, and ultimately fell, 66 to 40. Senior guard Jessica Gutierrez scored nine points, but senior center Andie Paschal and sophomore guard/forward Brittney Peacock were held to three and four, respectively.
“We had trouble running through our plays; Mancos knew most of our plays, and they would switch up their defense, so we had a little jumble,” said Seibel (12 points), when identifying causes for future concern. “And of course nerves coming from, like, the freshmen that we have … but that’s about it!”
Silva, Valdez and Lujan each chipped in four points for Ignacio (17-4), and Baker and sophomore guard Tori Archuleta each contributed two towards securing the top prize.
“It’s amazing,” said Cotton, who totaled nine points. “I’m so happy we’re number one right now!”
Advancing to Region III, the Lady Cats will next face District 5 champs Meeker (16-5) at 3:00 p.m., March 6, at Grand Junction High School (tentative) – rather than nearby Durango High as in recent years.
Ridgway athletic director Jason Gunning, in an e-mail received Monday, noted that Colorado Mesa University’s Brownson Arena may also be available, but “We will know by the end of Tuesday if we can go to CMU.” That determination unfortunately came after the Drum’s deadline.
Any location, however, wasn’t a worrying issue for Ignacio’s carefree players.
“Hilda gets to experience it, Avi gets to experience it, all our underclassmen!” Cotton said. “Me, Ellie, Chrystianne … we’ve experienced it and it’s the sweetest taste in the world, to give them that taste.”
“It’s going to be a long trip, but we’re going to stay focused,” she continued. “We’re going to celebrate tonight and then let this go – focus on playing whoever’s next!”
The Ignacio-Meeker winner will then face either Cedaredge or Edwards Vail Christian on the 7th, for the right to compete in the State Championships to again be held inside CSU-Pueblo’s Massari Arena.
“We’re going to take it to whoever we’ve got!” stated Seibel.