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Purple Reign


1A Girls State Champions Kit Carson Wildcats“Long live the Queen(s)” ---Queens of the Court, that is! There are four of them surrounded by a band of feisty “Ladies in Waiting.”

Over the weekend the Kit Carson Wildcat senior foursome of Tess Hornung, Olivia Isenbart, Haley Johnson, and McKenzie Smith guided their team on the final leg of a journey few dare to make, and even less are strong enough, both mentally and physically, to complete.

The Lady Wildcats became just the third team in the 1A division to win three consecutive Back-to-Back-to-Back, state titles in basketball. In a unique piece of southeastern Colorado pride, the Wildcats join area teams McClave and Cheraw in sharing that prestigious accomplishment. However, with Purple & Gold banners waving, they have gone way beyond what anyone has done by winning Back-to-Back-to-Back titles in Volleyball with the same Famous Foursome.

When the four Kit Carson seniors were freshmen, they sat on the bench at the 1A State Basketball Tournament and watched with wide eyes as their role models including sophomore Micayla Isenbart, junior Shayla Bogenhagen, and seniors Alex Hornung, Yuli Gutierrez, and Katie Johnson struggled to deal with a devastating opening round loss to South Baca, 60-47. Kit Carson had entered the state tournament with a dazzling 22-0 record and lost in a shocker that resonated with those freshmen watching from the sidelines. They looked on as the entire team dealt with utter despair and disappointment and vowed, “Never again.”

And, being true to their pledge, the Fantastic Four never lost again ending their careers on Saturday at the Massari Arena at CSU-Pueblo with a 77-0 run and an unbelievable 101-1 overall record.

They would plow through their opponents on a mission to their final win, their final game together, their final championship, their final legacy.

The first conquest was Elbert (#8) in Thursday’s quarterfinals who fell to the Lady Wildcats, 55-34. The win advanced the team to take on a physical and seasoned Briggsdale (#4) group in the semifinals. The Cats were a little off their game but came through strong in the second half to defeat Briggsdale, 45-26. That win put them in the championship game where they put together perhaps the finest girls’ basketball performance seen by the exceedingly loyal 1A crowds defeating a very talented Haxtun (#3) group by thirty points, 63-33.

Last conquest achieved. Tradition established. Legacy in place.

From head coach Sara Crawford’s perspective, this group of seniors were like a once in a lifetime occurrence. “I can’t say enough about these seniors! They’ve been criticized for not playing with much emotion at times, but really what they’ve been doing is taking care of business. However, they definitely played with emotion in the championship game! They wanted to make a statement and without a doubt, that’s what they did.”
Wildcat seniors who are 3-time state champions include Tess Hornung, McKenzie Smith, Olivia Isenbart, Haley Johnson - Photo Credit Angela Mayhem
Senior Olivia Isenbart described what it was like to play the game at such a high level with girls who, as she put it, thoroughly love and like each other, “Going into the tournament we knew it wasn’t going to be easy, and I think we were ready for that. We came in with the mindset that we were going to ‘make a statement,’ and never lost sight of that goal. Even if we would have lost, I still would have been proud of this team and how far we’ve come these past few years. Facing some really good teams throughout the entire tournament we had to be sure that we never got complacent and that we did our jobs to the best of our ability. Celebrating the little moments for most people is easy in volleyball since the play stops after someone scores, but in basketball it can be a little harder for people to find the time and energy to do that. Whenever someone made a good pass, or someone scored it came as second nature for us to give that person credit and the recognition they deserved. Whether it was a slap on the butt or even pointing at them as you ran down the court, you could always feel the love each of us had in seeing each other succeed.”

The Kit Carson team can best be described as a human hand with fingers who know their role and work together in unison to complete a task. Haley Johnson is the thumb, she’s the spark plug that controls the pace, the energy, and the process. The pinky is Reyna Isenbart, the youngest starter as a junior and a second guard, who when left alone can unexpectantly plunge the final dagger into the heart of opponents from the three-point line. Of course, the middle finger, is the big girl in the middle Olivia Isenbart. She’s the anchor, she’s the balance, she’s the one that keeps everyone aligned. The pointer, or index finger, is Tess Hornung. She is the one who the hand depends on to do a lot of the work, who can take over by herself at times, and who gets the tasks finished. Then you have the ring finger. That’s McKenzie Smith. She’s the ringer. She’s the one you can’t guard. She’s the one that ensures the team’s success.

In the Elbert game, it would be Tess Hornung who led the way for the Cats as the senior would not be denied throughout the tournament. She picked up every loose ball, many offensive boards, and focused fully and completely on getting the ball in the hoop. Kit Carson’s size bothered their opponent, as well, as the boards were owned by the Lady Cats in every game. By halftime of the Elbert game, Kit Carson was in control 29-10 after Hornung’s 16-point performance, including going six-for-six from the free throw line.

The second half was much of the first as the bench for Kit Carson was stellar holding their own against an Elbert group who kept their varsity playing full court basketball to the end.

Hornung poured in 26 points in the three quarters she was on the court. Johnson added 8, while Olivia Isenbart chipped in six in limited time.

The fact that Coach Crawford could use her bench and rest her starters was a huge factor in the amazing performance they were able to give on Saturday. Typically, a three-day tournament destroys the legs, but the Wildcats were able to be fresh with such a deep bench.

Kit Carson played a fairly shaky game against Briggsdale, a battle-tested team. It took a bit, but the Cats finally got the upper hand by using a strong defense that would not allow much scoring from Briggsdale. By halftime, the game was over 22-9, although the KC group really poured it on in the third quarter until the bench, again, took over and were able to continue with hardly a hiccup.

For the second night in a row, it was Hornung who poured in 27 points over the three quarters of play.

Then came the championship game against a tough Haxtun team who had given the Cats a scare late in the regular season losing by just 10 points. But on Saturday night the culmination of all the hours, weeks, and years these girls had played together came into existence as they put together perhaps the best game, overall, as a unit, the fans have ever seen. They meant business as Johnson and Smith pushed the ball hard and broke Haxtun early. Despite losing Reyna Isenbart to foul trouble in the first quarter as she had been assigned Knobe, one of the best players in 1A, the Cats never missed a beat bringing in sophomore Mercede Smith who played with poise and confidence. Playing with her sister, McKenzie, the two Smith girls gave Haxtun havoc on both sides of the ball.

As Haxtun hung all over Hornung and Olivia Isenbart down in the battle grounds of the paint, the two seniors used their strength to power the ball into the hoop as they both put in tremendous efforts. It again, was not a contest after the first half as the Cats led, 32-15.

Crawford would keep her seniors in as long as she could in the final quarter and when Haxtun threw the white flag, one-by-one Crawford’s four Queens came off the court for the very last time. They would sit in a mixture of emotions as their “Ladies in Waiting” used the skills the Queens had helped them to develop to show the state that the Lady Wildcats may not be done yet.

Hornung again led all scorers with 23 points. Olivia Isenbart mustered 13 points and McKenzie Smith put in 11 more. For Haley Johnson it was not so much the scoring that she will be remembered for in that game but rather the way she pushed the tempo fearlessly and was the field general in their final battle.

Now Wildcat Nation will have to wait one whole year for one opportunity that no one in the annuls of Colorado Girls Basketball has been able to achieve. Kit Carson needs two wins next year, to break the all-time state consecutive wins record now held by McClave set from 2004 through the first few games in 2007 at 78 consecutive wins. First up on the Wildcat schedule will be Limon, who was at the 2A state tournament this year, and then Wiley. A win over Limon will tie the record at 78, then the state record can be broken at 79 if they defeat Wiley.
The Kit Carson Lady Wildcat’s and their State Championship Trophy that they received Saturday, Mar. 9th in Pueblo. Front row; L-R, Haley Johnson, Olivia Isenbart, McKenzie Smith and Tess Hornung.  Back row: L-R, Faith Johnson, Tieler Randel, Mercede Smith, Cally Booker-Rady, Stephanie Framel, Reyna Isenbart, Jordyn Weeks, Allison Gekeler, Faye Buttry. - Photo Credit Bob Schecter
Many sports enthusiasts have told the Kit Carson AD, who happens to be Coach Crawford herself, to schedule a soft start to the season in order to ensure they get the record. But Coach Crawford has another way of thinking about such a record, “Mike and I have had the same conversation about our first few games next year. We have Limon scheduled for our first game like usual, so we’ll have to completely fight for that tie! And then Wiley will be our second game, so it won’t be easy, but I think that’s how I’d rather have it.”

She has the players that can get it done as they return their only upperclassman in Reyna Isenbart and a bunch of sophomores who have seen more varsity time than most varsity teams because of the dominance of the seniors. The sophomores include Faith Johnson, Tieler Randel, Allison Gekeler, Mercede Smith, Jordyn Weeks, and Cally Booker-Rady. They also have two good freshmen in Stephanie Framel and Faye Buttry.

Yes, the kingdom is thriving and looking forward to a bright and shining future indeed!

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