Above all else, Durango High School girls basketball coach Tim Fitzpatrick is calling Tuesday’s Class 4A Sweet 16 game against No. 3 Green Mountain an opportunity. It’s an opportunity for his team to extend its season, reach the Great 8 and potentially help shape the direction of the program, which has progressively improved since he took it over in 2014.
Durango (15-9), the No. 14 seed, is looking to earn a spot in the Great 8 for the first time dating back to at least 2006. Durango made the Sweet 16 in 2006 and 2008 when the program was in Class 5A, and it also qualified under Fitzpatrick in back-to-back seasons in 2016 and ’17.
“The girls are certainly excited, and we talked about us as a team on Saturday at practice,” Fitzpatrick said. “We know how big of a game it is for us as a program, but we’re going to stay true to our game. It’s not about having talented players, but we’ve got positive senior leadership, which has been huge for us. Girls who might not play as much are realizing the positive impact they’re having, and everyone is playing a huge role right now.”
Green Mountain (22-2), based in Lakewood, is also looking to reach the Great 8 after it fell four points short last season in a loss to Greeley Central. The Rams have won their last eight games dating back to Jan. 28 and have outscored opponents 439-225 during the winning streak.
But that’s where Durango’s defense comes in. Heading into Tuesday’s showdown in Lakewood, the Demons have given up 34.6 points per game this season. The Demons’ defense looked sharp in Friday’s second-round win over Skyview at DHS, in which they gave up 31 points in a 43-31 win.
The Rams are led by sophomore Avery Oaster, who averages 9.6 points per game. Junior Courtney Hank is at 9.3, while freshman Jayda Mayers averages 9.1 per game. Senior Maddie Phillips leads the team with 6.4 rebounds per game.
“We saw Green Mountain play at the Pueblo tournament earlier this season, and they’re talented,” Fitzpatrick said. “They are similar to us in that they are long and athletic. They’ve got kids that can shoot the ball. We worked on handling pressure, and we’re just tweaking some things that I saw on film.”
Durango is led by Mason Rowland, who averages 7.7 points per game, and scored a game-high 18 points in the win over Skyview.
Senior Emma Fitzgerald is second on the team in scoring with 5.9 points per game, and junior Maddy McManus is third with 5.4. Rowland also leads the team in rebounding with 4.7 per game.
“The main thing is that we’re going to have to be who we have been the whole season,” Fitzpatrick said. “I think we can cause problems, we’re going to have to push the game speed with the right mindset. That’s where we’re going to come after them. We’re not going to play any differently.”
Fitzpatrick also said the Demons won’t be rattled playing on the road. The Demons had just six home games all season and have had tournaments in Aztec and Pueblo and long drives to various opponents in the 5A/4A Southwestern League.
“We talked about not trying to get sucked into a tough environment,” Fitzpatrick said. “We’ve been on the road so much this year that it’s another opportunity to spend more time with each other. We’ve only had six home games, including the playoff game. So we’re road tested for sure.”
For Fitzpatrick, Tuesday’s game is a chance to create future momentum for a program that has been on the rise for years. He believes the Demons can make the most of the moment.
“My kids have a good frame of mind, they’re ready to compete and we’ll see what happens,” Fitzpatrick said. “The kids are dialed-in. It’s a unique opportunity, and that’s how we’re going to approach it.”