Cougars ready for challenge

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By Dan Johnson

The annual clash between mountain rivals Conifer and Evergreen is always a big deal.

Considering where the basketball teams rank in terms of league standings, the Feb. 12 showdown between the girls and boys basketball teams -- scheduled for a 6 p.m. start for the boys, followed immediately by the girls -- takes on even more importance.

Take the boys’ game. Both the Lobos and Cougars have identical 2-1 records in Class 4A Jefferson County League play, and 9-8 overall records.

“We’re both in the upper-half of the league standings,” said Evergreen coach Scott Haebe. “Besides the fact it’s a huge rivalry, when you factor in the significance of the league standings, it adds more excitement to the game.”

For Haebe, the Feb. 12 game against Conifer gives him a chance to coach against friend and former assistant coach, Jeff DeBuhr, who left Evergreen last year to take over the Conifer squad.

In his first year on the job, DeBuhr guided the Lobos to an improbable run to the quarterfinal round of the 4A state tournament.

“It’s going to be a fun game,” Haebe said. “Jeff coached for me and we approach the game similarly. We both know what the other wants to do, so the game’s going to come down to who can execute their gameplan the best.”

In last year’s meeting, Haebe and the Cougars came out on top of a 49-33 decision.

“I think the parents and kids put much more emphasis on (the Conifer game) than I do,” Haebe said. “I really do enjoy the game and it’s a fun rivalry. Everyone knows Jeff and I are friends; it’s not a nasty rivalry. I enjoy playing in a packed house and it’s great for the mountain community.

“It’s a fun, exciting rivalry, but I don’t get overly excited either way over the final outcome. Regardless of what happens (Feb. 12), we have another game on our schedule a few days later.”

Girls also have plenty to play for

Just as in the boys’ game, Evergreen and Conifer’s girls basketball teams find themselves with very similar records.

The Cougars and Lobos are both 2-1 in Jeffco League play, with Evergreen holding a 9-8 overall record to Conifer’s 8-8 mark.

In addition to the mirror-like records, both teams feature that one star player who can take over a game at a moment’s notice.

For Evergreen, that player is senior center, Tricia Oakes. Oakes, who committed to Colgate University earlier this season, is averaging a double-double (17.7 points, 11.6 rebounds). She also has 75 blocks (a 4.4 average) on the season.

“Tricia is having an unbelievable year,” said coach Ali Johnston. “She’s leading the state in blocks and rebounds. She’s being a leader and just taking over games. When you factor in that she’s doing all this while being double- and triple-teamed, it’s really a testament to her and her desire to win.”

While the Cougars are led by an experienced senior, the Lobos are carried by a freshman.

Allison Gorrell has emerged as one of the better players in Jeffco, averaging 16.2 points, 6.1 rebounds and 4.1 steals per game.

“She’s so consistent, that’s what so impressive about her,” Johnston said of Gorrell. “Usually freshmen, you see them have a big game or two, then they disappear for a stretch. She’s been doing it all year long. She’s a real quality player.”

Johnston hopes to neutralize Gorrell’s effectiveness by assigning senior defensive whiz Kimmy Baroch to guard the Conifer freshman.

“Whoever the other team’s best player is, Kimmy guards them,” Johnston said. “Kimmy’s so versatile; she can guard the perimeter and also go down in the blocks and defend the post.”

Johnston picked up her first win as coach in the rivalry last year when the Cougars won a one-sided game, 56-33.

“This is always a big game for the seniors,” Johnston said. “You always want to win your final game against Conifer.”