Air Academy's girls’ basketball team made sure to let Friday’s opponent, Discovery Canyon, know it is not grieving alone after the loss of a teammate.
Friday marked the first time the Thunder played in their home gym after junior guard Avory Kvale was killed in a Dec. 27 car crash near Monument alongside classmate Kaden Currier. The Kadets shared their sympathies in the form of personal notes attached to Mason jars full of Hershey’s Hugs and Kisses.
“We all decided that we wanted to do something for them,” Air Academy junior Kylee Blacksten said. “We didn’t want it to be super huge where it would like make everybody really sad, but we wanted to do something to show that we are here, we do know what happened.”
Following a pregame moment of silence in memory of the Thunder student-athletes, there was basketball to be played.
The Kadets, Colorado High School Activities Association’s top-ranked team in Class 4A, used 29 points from Blacksten in a 56-40 victory over the hosts.
Blacksten also drew the assignment of guarding Thunder senior Ashten Prechtel, who is signed to play basketball at Stanford next season.
“I love the games when I have a good matchup where it’s supposed to be really competitive,” said the junior who has collected a handful of Division I offers.
Blacksten hit two 3-pointers and scored eight points, as the Kadets (10-0, 3-0) opened a 15-10 lead following the first quarter. She added 11 more in the second, and Air Academy led 31-18 at the break.
“I thought that the first half (when) they were playing that zone, she didn’t settle for outside shots,” Air Academy coach Phil Roiko said. “She’d catch the ball on the perimeter then attacked Ashten in the middle and then drew some fouls.”
A 3-pointer from Air Academy senior Zoe Sims made it a 21-point game in the fourth, but the Thunder (5-6, 1-1) fought to the finish, as Prechtel scored five of her team-high 17 points in the fourth.
“These kids always have that attitude,” Discovery Canyon coach Heath Kirkham said. “Part of that is because they’re not playing for themselves. They’re playing for each other after what happened and are really sticking together.”
Cora Ferguson joined Prechtel in double figures, scoring 12 for the Thunder. Prechtel may have done more damage if not for some foul trouble that limited her playing time.
“We were this close to being in a ballgame over and over and over again,” Kirkham said, holding his fingers millimeters apart.
Prechtel's and Ferguson's combined 29 points matched Blacksten’s output, while Sims added 14 for the Kadets. The Air Academy junior finished a made free throw or two away from a new career high. Entering with an 81-percent success rate on the season, Friday’s 3-for-8 showing from the charity stripe was a little frustrating for the Kadets' leading scorer.
“Those are freebie shots. I missed so many,” Blacksten lamented. “It was so bad.”
Friday’s meeting, however, was about more than just putting a round ball in a round hoop.
“You gotta always put things in perspective,” Roiko said. “For what they went through, I can’t imagine what that must be like for their team, for their coach. It says a lot that they played with a lot of passion tonight.”