A year ago, Markie Workman, Angie Charchalis and Cayla Maneotis played supporting roles on a team that made it to the Class 4A round of 16.
A year later, the improved play of the three non-seniors is a big reason the Moffat County girls basketball team is back in the Sweet 16.
"It's obvious how much they've improved and made this team what it is," coach Craig Mortensen said. "They've been consistent for a team with an inconsistent roster this year."
The lineup has changed all around the three, but they've been there amid the other injuries and adjustments. The three have started every game since Christmas break and have been consistent factors in the team's 23-0 season
Charchalis and Workman earned varsity time as freshmen last year, which is rare under Mortensen.
Last year, Charchalis started or was the first player off the bench and averaged 8.7 points a game.
This year, Charchalis started the season with similar duties, but when senior point guard Cortney Grandbouche suffered a season-ending injury after Christmas break, the sophomore stepped in as point guard.
Taking over the point guard duties hasn't stifled Charchalis' scoring ability. Her scoring has increased from 7.75 points a game before Christmas break to 14.7 a game after.
Her confidence from outside has been critical to her offense. She leads the team with 50 3-pointers this season
"For what Angie does, she's probably the best in the league," Mortensen said. "If coaches didn't prepare for her they were doing something wrong."
Workman and Maneotis played behind senior post players Brandie Telfer and Erin Robinson last year. This year, they moved into starting roles.
"It was aggravating last year because I wanted to help more," Workman said. "But we knew a post game was needed this year and I think we've done what was needed of us."
Workman averaged 4.8 points a game for the varsity team last year. This year, she leads the team with 14.5 points a game.
She has struggled with foul trouble, but that's part of her aggressive nature.
"I've done my job on offense," she said. "But I could still improve more on defense with rebounding (and fouling)."
It was rare this year for anybody to match Workman's athletic ability and aggressiveness in games.
"Markie is going to outwork her opponent," Mortensen said. "To go from playing a couple of minutes a game last year to where she's at now has been big for us."
A 6-foot-5, Maneotis has always been a physical presence for the Bulldogs. She took over Moffat's all-time lead in career blocks as a sophomore. This year, her offensive improvement has added another element to her game.
"Last year, I was nervous about making mistakes," she said. "This year, I'm focusing more on doing what I can to help."
According to statewide statistics on the Rocky Mountain News Web site, Maneotis leads Class 4A with 77 blocked shots this season.
"Cayla changes what teams try to do on offense," Mortensen said. "They have a hard time getting inside on her."
Maneotis averaged similar playing time as Workman last year and averaged 4.1 points a game.
This year, she's almost averaging a double-double with 10.5 points a game and 8.2 rebounds.
The bad news for the Western Slope League is that all three will be back next year, but that's not the Bulldogs' focus right now.
"Last year, we didn't know what to expect, and we were nervous going into the Sweet 16," Workman said. "This year, we know it's another game and that we have to do what we've done all year to be successful. We're excited for the chance to improve on last year's results."
The only thing that keeps Western Slope girls basketball powers Montrose and Moffat County from meeting in the regular season is the difference in leagues. The Indians, who play under Colorado High School Hall of Fame coach John Mraule, play in the Class 5A Southwestern League and the Bulldogs compete in the Class 4A Western Slope League.
The two teams will meet at 6 p.m. today in a Class 4A Sweet 16 matchup at Mesa State College's Brownson Arena in Grand Junction. They are two of the three remaining Western Slope teams in the Class 4A tournament. The Bulldogs and Indians have defeated the third remaining team, Glenwood Springs, a combined three times this season.
Mraule told the Montrose Daily Press that one advantage his No. 4-seeded team has against the No. 1-seeded Bulldogs is that they play in a tougher league. "To our advantage we play in a league that we play somebody tough every night. We never have an opportunity to take a night off," he said. "Their league is not as strong and doesn't face that kind of competition."
Mraule's team is familiar with Moffat's WSL competition. They played five games against the 4A league and were 5-0.
"You never know if that means anything until you face each other," Moffat County coach Craig Mortensen said about conference schedules. "Maybe we were just that dominant because we are a good team."
Montrose finished the regular season 15-7 with five losses against Class 5A schools. After a first-round bye, the Indians beat Summit 56-50 to advance to the Sweet 16 game.
To win tonight, MCHS coach Mortensen said, "We have to play good defense like we have all year.On offense we'll need to take care of the basketball and take good shots."
No. 1 Moffat County (23-0) takes on No. 4 Montrose (16-7) at 6 p.m. today in Grand Junction at Mesa State College