Grandview Wolves | Colorado State Champions | By Charley Silverman
KICKING OFF THE SHOES & SOCKS!
You know the basketball Cinderella story? Some plucky team nobody sees coming makes a late run to the championship. Unknown players and storylines take center stage in huge moments, transcending the sum of their talents. Triumph of the underdog. Stuff from Disney movie scripts.
Well, my friends, this is not that story. Not this year. Sure isn’t.
In 2016-2017 Colorado 5A Girls Basketball, all the Cinderellas were sent home with pumpkins and participation trophies. With the Grandview girls hungrier than ever for a championship, and Michaela Onyewere the clear alpha female leading the pack, Cinderella stayed home this year for fear of Wolves.
The 2017-17 Grandview girls basketball team made their outside of the Colorado basketball scene. Their on-court excellence and togetherness gained national attention. At the end of the season, Grandview was ranked the seventh-best team in the country by Pass Tha Ball Prep Polls, which aggregates other national polls. Knowing the path Grandview has taken into this season, and the way they so thoroughly dominated makes every accolade obvious and self-explanatory.
The Wolves finished the season 27-1. The only loss came during a Christmas Break tournament game to Miami Country Day in overtime in Phoenix, Arizona. Senior Kennede Brown gives credit to that early season trip for helping bring the team together. “We got a lot closer as a team during the Phoenix trip,” Brown says. Michaela Onyenwere said, “We really got to know one another while facing a high level of competition from some of the best teams in the country. I’ve faced great competition on the road either playing club ball or for Team USA. None of that compares to the feeling of winning a state championship with the girls you hang out and go to school with.”
The closest any team from Colorado never came within single digits once the final whistle blew. Ralston Valley came to Grandview for the very first game of the season, and the 10 points final margin was the closest sniff of victory any opposing team had all season. This season was a season of survival and the Wolves were hungry for eats.
Everybody involved in the Grandview program was on the same page. After losing by two points to Thunder Ridge in the Final Four last year, the entire program had a bad taste in their mouth. “We had three seniors and they remembered that feeling all season. We said we didn’t want to ever feel that feeling again,” said coach Josh Ulitzky. Kennede Brown said the exact same thing and spoke about how much their final four loss directed their focus for this year.
That focus kept things entirely uninteresting for those fans hoping for drama in Colorado’s big-school division. Every game must be played until time runs out, and star player Michaela Onyenwere sweated almost every second this season. Until the final minute of the championship game, she says she was determined to play every second like it was her last. Grandview’s average margin of victory during the playoffs was an astounding 39.8 points. Michaela’s mental footage of that final minute includes standing on the sidelines with her teammates counting down the final ten seconds out-loud and mobbing her teammates. With a final score of 61-32, the game was never close.
While the season was devoid of teams that could truly challenge this version of the Grandview Wolves, this season was the summit of a very long climb. Coach Ulitzky has been in Aurora for the last 18 years, the most recent 12 at Grandview, steadily building to this first championship.
Season after season the Wolves built their program. The nature of sports is that programs continually build with the raw materials they are given. All of the materials, aka players, are finite resources, good for four years of active playing only. A coach has them for that brief window and then must surrender his players back to the world. Games and tournaments, championships and hard losses, all are only snapshots of where a program is at any given moment. Things like State Championships testify to the bottom of the build, the foundation, all the way to the top spire. How tall and impressive the structure grows is largely attributable to the builder, in this case, Coach Ulitzky, and the materials themselves.
The four-year stretch Grandview has put together under Coach Ulitzky has certainly shown how to build. For the three seniors, Michaela, Kennede and Lenzi Hudson, getting over the hurdle of winning State validated all the work of the previous seasons which had fallen just short. They had reached the Final Four, Sweet Sixteen and Final Four in the previous three seasons. Close enough to smell a championship, but not close enough to taste the champagne. “I couldn’t be more grateful to have done it here, with these girls. I’ll never forget this team or this experience, and I’m just so thankful,” said Michaela.
The championship banner will hang in the rafters forever. Grandview Girls hoops conquered all challengers and challenges. It might have been more dramatic if it had been close. It wasn’t close and wasn’t all that dramatic. Just dominant. Perched on the highest lookout in the land, the Wolves get to watch from the top spot as every other team in the state comes for what they’ve got, the final win of the season.
What those other teams won’t find next year is the same Grandview team coming back. Co-captain Kennede Brown is the all-time program leader in wins. She’s a four-year letter winner and three-year starter heading off to the Colorado School of Mines where you can catch her on the track and not the hardwood. Find her in introductory engineering classes all semester.
Michaela Onyenwere is headed to UCLA to continue her career. She’s done everything there is to do in high school, and by all accounts is %100 deserving of every accolade that has come her way. School in California starts late, so Michaela says she’s going to enjoy her summer. Training, maybe a summer job, and a lot of sleep are in her plans before school starts again.
Grandview, well Grandview will be back. Coach Ulitzky remains at the helm of the program. A good man to steer the ship. Some players will return, but the program will need to supplement the losses of talent. That’s for next year. As senioritis sets in, and spring turns into summer, the girls are soaking in the hallway high-fives and congratulations along the way.
Games and championships are just a snapshots of a program in time. Sometimes the snapshot can be blurry or hard to decipher. Not this time around. This time, the image is perfectly clear and comes with the caption, Grandview Wolves 2016-2017 5A Colorado Girls State Basketball Champions.