The Craig Middle School eighth-grade girls team celebrates after winning the district championship in Craig on Saturday. The eighth-graders beat Steamboat Springs and Rangely to win their second straight title.

Keri Hamilton/courtesy

The Craig Middle School eighth-grade girls team celebrates after winning the district championship in Craig on Saturday. The eighth-graders beat Steamboat Springs and Rangely to win their second straight title.

Craig Middle School girls basketball take first, second at districts

It was a good weekend for Craig Middle School girls basketball as they played their final games of the season in Craig.

The seventh- and eighth-grade teams from CMS hosted the district championships Saturday at CMS and Sandrock Elementary, with the eighth-graders emerging from the tournament as champions. The seventh-grade team finished as runners-up to Rangely.

The eighth-grade team, which entered the tournament as the top seed and defending champs, lived up to its seeding, dispatching Steamboat Springs in the semifinals and Rangely in the final.

It was the second straight year CMS and Rangely met in the district championship game, with Craig coming out on top each time.

Head coach Candi Hellander was pleased with the way her team played in the tournament, especially in beating Rangely.

“We played them last year (in the final) and won by one point,” Hellander said. “It was nice to win again, but by more points this time.”

The eighth-grade team went undefeated as seventh-graders but lost a game early this season to Rawlins. Hellander never likes to lose, but she called it a blessing in disguise.

“I think it was a reality check,” she said. “We had some ups and downs, some games where we started slow and others where we looked awesome.”

The Bulldogs were led by a nucleus of players (Josie King, Mattie Jo Duzik, Alex Hamilton and Emma Samuelson) who played the bulk of the important minutes, but Hellander spoke highly of the entire team.

“I don’t know if I should mention just one or two players, because I’ll tell you, they all have a lot of heart and try to give me everything I ask for,” she said. “They’re a great group of girls. I don't think I could ask for a better group.”

Meanwhile, the seventh-graders also played Steamboat and Rangely, losing to the latter in the finals but still impressing coach Alicia Townsend in the process.

“For the last two weeks the kids have brought their game up a notch,” Townsend said. “They culminated in the tournament. They peaked at the right time. It was our best games against Steamboat and Rangely.”

The Bulldogs had lost both regular season meetings against the Sailors and Panthers, including a one-point loss to Steamboat on Valentine’s Day. But they stepped up in the tournament, beating the Sailors and playing Rangely, which went undefeated in the regular season, to a tie through one half.

“We were pretty happy. We thought the kids put it all out there,” she said.

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