Shaun Stanley/Durango Herald
Only 11 girls get to make the trip from Bayfield to Fort Collins for the CHSAA Class 3A Girls Basketball State Championships this weekend, but an entire community might as well be going with them.
Bayfield High School packed its gymnasium Wednesday morning for a pep rally of basketball history, words from the Wolverines’ coaches and players, the Bayfield band’s blaring rendition of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” and a long tunnel of Bayfield bodies that ushered the team of Wolverines off toward Colorado State University.
It’s the first time in 31 years the Wolverines will be competing at the elite eight in the state tournament, and the Bayfield community can’t think of a better group to embody its town.
“All those girls, they totally represent our community,” said Marie Knickerbocker, mother of junior guard Micaela Knickerbocker. “They’re good girls; they’re good students.”
Marie Knickerbocker was one of about a dozen fans who gathered at the center of the roundabout near BHS with signs wishing the team well as they circled and honked their way out of town.
Bayfield cheerleader Morgann Box has watched the Bayfield girls play every home game from underneath the basket. She’s gotten to know their faces, and she said she likes to see the happiness in their eyes that’s lit up since they locked up that tournament berth last week.
Box said all of the girls are well known in the high school as much for their basketball prowess as their kindness and personalities.
“It is just amazing to see them do this,” Box said. “I think they deserve it. They really do represent the school.”
BHS juniors Joe Pixton and James Young got to watch the pep rally from the stands. They, too, are excited for the girls to represent their school at Moby Arena on the CSU campus this weekend.
Pixton said the appearance gives Bayfield – whose football team finished runner-up at this year’s 3A state tournament – even more bragging rights. When Wolverines get in a “beef” with opposing high school students, they can point to their girls basketball team as evidence of the Wolverines’ prowess.
“It feels like we’re going to put Bayfield back on the map,” Young said.
If there was a buzz of excitement rippling in the Bayfield crowd Wednesday morning, it was tangible around the girls basketball players themselves.
“I feel so excited right now. So excited!” senior Tia Neeley almost shrieked, bouncing up and down before running through a tunnel of humans to the parking lot.
That excitement will have to quickly turn to concentration, though, as the sixth-seeded Wolverines prepare to take on Eaton at 7 p.m. today.
BHS head coach Ronnie Posey said Eaton is going to be a tough out. The Reds (23-1) made it to the state championship last year on their size and skill.
“They’re back. They know what it takes to get here. They have a pretty good idea of what it takes to win,” Posey said.
So if the Wolverines are to pull off an upset over the No. 3 seed, Posey said his girls need to cut down on their unforced turnovers, see their passes before they make them and simply play their style of game with tight, fast defense and good rebounding.
“It’s partly patience, execution and just playing with no fear,” Posey said.
“We’re not bringing anything new. We’re pretty happy with where we’re at and what got us here.
“We flat have to cut it loose tonight. ... We’re the only thing that matters,” Posey said. “If we do what we can do, then we’ve taken care of business ... The truth of the matter is Eaton is just good so we just got to practice and get better.”
Taylor Harrison will be one of those Wolverines responsible for taking care of the ball. She, too, said the Wolverines just need to do what they already know how to do.
“Play like we play. Keep our tempo. Be smart. Have fun,” said Harrison, one of seven seniors on the BHS roster.
Depending on today’s results, the Wolverines on Friday will play either No. 2 Bishop Machebeuf or No. 7 Denver School of Science and Technology in the final four or in the consolation bracket.
“I expect us to go out there and no matter what happens, we’ll be playing together,” Bayfield senior Kayla Strobel said.