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MEEKER I After two outstanding victories during the weekend, the Meeker girls’ basketball team roped the championship title at the District Five tournament in Paonia. It has been 17 years since a Meeker girls’ basketball team has won the district championship. The lady Cowboys entered the tournament in the No. 2 spot with a first round draw against the number three team, Hotchkiss, on March 1.
The Bulldogs broke the ice with a big three only to have Taylor Neilson and Piper Haney both make a foul shot after they were hammered at the basket. The next trip down the court Kaysyn Chintala sank a bucket with an added free throw to give the lady Cowboys the lead, 5-3. At the mid-quarter mark, Hotchkiss had added three points to the board to lead again until Haney stole the ball and dropped in a layup. The Bulldogs answered with a jumper. Meeker added six more points before the buzzer as Neilson hit a jumper, Chintala picked off a Bulldog pass then added two foul shots and Sydney Hughes cashed in a layup, 13-8 Meeker.
The defensive battle intensified as the score remained the same until the clock had ticked off four minutes into the second period. Then the Bulldogs tied it up with a three and a two, but quickly Katie Dinwiddie and Kacey Collins each sank a bucket. Aly Ridings hit one free throw and Collins added another basket for a seven point Cowboy lead. Hotchkiss found the basket for four more points in the quarter, but Meeker kept a lead as Haney added a foul shot to head to half time leading 21-17.
The tight defense continued into the second half as both teams only allowed eight points to be scored on them, 29-25 Meeker, headed into the final stretch. Hotchkiss fell into a rough defense to try to gain control of the game, but this only put the lady Cowboys at the line shooting double bonus. Meeker gained a seven point lead then a Hotchkiss player boxed out Chintala too hard on a three pointer and Chintala went out of the game with a knee injury. This only ignited the lady Cowboys and they stepped up even tighter on defense. Meeker scored 13 points and only allowed five from Hotchkiss to soundly defeat the Bulldogs 42-29. The lady Cowboys earned a spot in the championship match Saturday against the Paonia Eagles. Entering this championship game Meeker sported a 19-2 record; the two losses were to Paonia. The gym was packed for the girls’ championship game. Both teams were ranked in the top 10 in the state throughout the season. Colorado Preps Network posted this game as one to watch.
With Chintala sidelined from her injury against Hotchkiss, speedy sophomore Sydney Hughes made her starting debut and came out firing as she scored the first three points of the game. Haney then hit a foul shot before the Eagles scored their first bucket. Dinwiddie quickly added two and Neilson cashed in four for an early Meeker lead, 10-2. Midway through the quarter Paonia added nine more points and Hughes picked up two fouls that had her benched. Haney answered with some big offensive rebounds to add four points to keep a Meeker lead going into the second period, 14-13.
The score zigzagged through the second quarter. Neilson hit a two, then Paonia hit a two. Collins made a bucket with a foul shot, but Paonia answered with three of their own. Meeker lost Hughes to her third foul, but they continued to keep the upper hand as Neilson, Dinwiddie and Haney all tossed up a shot. Paonia added a bucket, but found themselves in foul trouble which sent Meeker to the line for bonus foul shots. Neilson and Deena Norell stepped to the line for three Meeker points. Then Ridings was fouled after she picked off a pass and headed to the bucket making both free throws. The halftime buzzer sounded with Paonia scoring 14 points to Meeker’s 16 for a 30-27 lady Cowboy lead.
Once again the score seesawed through the third quarter as the Eagles made the first shot, but Ridings snagged the ball from a Paonia player and dished in a layup followed by a similar steal and bucket from Hughes. Paonia added a shot then Haney sank a left-handed layup. The Eagles made five more points, but Neilson countered with eight of her own and Hughes tossed in two more points for a 10 point Meeker lead before Hughes got her fourth personal foul of the game. Paonia cashed in six more points for the quarter, but Collins added a free throw and Neilson hit another jumper to keep a 49-43 lead heading into the final quarter.
Paonia came out with the first bucket, but Neilson added five more points to the Cowboys side of the board by the four minute mark. Hughes picked up her fifth personal foul and the Eagle’s fouls were mounting up. Neilson added three more points and Paonia added four. Meeker led 55-49 with two minutes still on the clock. The Eagles hit a big three and a deep two to close the gap by a point. Neilson went to the line for the fifth time on the night and sunk both shots. Paonia answered with a bucket keeping the score within one point. With one minute left on the clock, Neilson added another bucket and Paonia added one of their own. Neilson was fouled and drained two more foul shots. With 12 seconds left in the game Meeker led 61-58, and the lady Cowboys continued their signature intense defense to hold off the Eagles in a big victory for the District Championship trophy.
Before the weekends’ games, head coach Greg Chintala challenged the team to demonstrate “maximum effort and maximum execution — that is what they produced. Everybody stepped up to make a difference!” With 11 girls rotating to the floor during tournament pressure play, Meeker is proving to be a big force to be reckoned with. Even with players benched for injuries or fouls, the lady Cowboys have demonstrated all season that they have that winning attitude as a team.
“Every single girl was key to winning these games,” Chintala noted. “If you count the coaches, we are 15 deep. Every single person sitting on that bench at every moment of the game is talking and encouraging the five on the floor.”
This championship earns the lady Cowboys the host site for the Region 5 tournament at Grand Junction Central High School. Meeker will play the No. 3 team from district three, Dolores, on March 8 at 3:30 p.m. The number four team from district eight, Simla, will match up against Sargent, the number two team from district one. Saturday the winners will compete to earn a position as a state qualifier and proceed to the state tournament in Pueblo March 14-18.