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Valor Christian uses ferocious defense to beat Regis Jesuit, claim Class 6A girls basketball title

The Valor Christian Eagles, overlooked by many this season, knew they had the talent, grit and passion to be state champions.

But something was missing. A 78-72 loss to Regis Jesuit on Dec. 12 told them that. A 65-52 loss to Grandview on Jan. 10 confirmed it.

The missing element was defense. Move-your-feet, get-in-their-face, don’t-let-them-breathe defense.

“About halfway through the season, we asked ourselves, ‘What do we need?’ ” coach Jessika Caldwell said. “We were scoring at a great pace — putting up 70 points — but we were losing. What do we need to do? And we said, ‘Make a commitment to defense.’ ”

Saturday afternoon at the Denver Coliseum, the No. 4 Eagles used that D to dominate No. 7 Regis Jesuit and win the Class 6A girls state championship, 58-44. It’s Valor’s fourth state title and first since 2021.

The Eagles, who finished 23-4, confounded Regis with a tenacious zone to begin the game and led 22-4 early in the second quarter. The Raiders opened the game shooting 2 of 23 from the floor.

“Absolutely it’s about our defense,” said junior point guard Quinn VanSickle, who captains Valor’s ship. “It one of our key values and it’s stressed by our coaches. Every day in practice we push each other. Our practices are brutal, just so we could prepare for games like this.”

Although Regis made a mini second-half run, the game’s outcome was never in doubt, especially when the Eagles took a 31-7 lead into halftime.

VanSickle, named the Colorado Sportswomen’s outstanding player of the game, scored 22 points and sank all 11 of her foul shots. She got plenty of help from sophomore forward Camyrn Gunter (13 points, 12 rebounds) and sophomore guard Peyton Jones (10 points, three assists).

With junior guard Rylie Beers on the bench with her left leg in a brace — she injured her knee during Valor’s semifinal win over Cherokee Trail — the Eagles needed everyone to contribute. They did.

The Raiders’ own recent history told them that hoop miracles were possible. In their semifinal game against Legend on Thursday, the Raiders rallied from 14 points down entering the final quarter and rode a 20-0 magic carpet ride to a stunning 54-53 victory.

Saturday, to its credit, Regis did not go down meekly. But Valor was simply too poised and too talented to squander its big lead.

“(Regis) showed such great grit,” Caldwell said. “They put us on our heels a little bit with their pressure. And when things get close, we have a tendency to get a little tight. But I was really proud of our composure today. Without Rylie, we really only ran about six deep, so everyone who touched the floor did something truly special.”

There were plenty of tears after the game as Valor raised the championship trophy.

“There’s a lot of emotion tied into this,” Caldwell said. “I lost my dad (Randy Stratton) in June. He’s why I got into coaching and he’s why I came to Valor.”

Beers played in every game of Valor’s championship season, expect the final one.

“We worked our tails off, that was the key,” Beers said. “Nobody thought that we were going to make it this far, and I’m just so proud that our senior leader, Emma Lytle, got to win this. She deserves this more than anyone I know. And this team is just so together and we’re such a family.”

Regis, which finished the season 20-8, was led by senior Hana Belbi, who led all scorers with 26 points and snared six rebounds.

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