DENVER - After completing the regular season unbeaten in Colorado play, the Vanguard dream season fell short.
After leading No. 3 Manual by as many as 13 points in the Class 3A state title game, the No. 4 Coursers suffered a heartbreaking 80-68 loss in the program’s first state championship appearance.
The Coursers held a 14-point lead in the third Saturday before a fourth-quarter collapse. The Thunderbolts outscored Vanguard 36-18 thanks to a menacing full-court press that ended the Coursers’ season, and the career of one of the area’s all-time great basketball players.
Vanguard senior Seth Fuqua, is the area’s first boys’ 2,000-point scorer since 2016, and the first Pikes Peak region athlete to do it in four years at the same school. He is listed among just 11 players in the state to surpass the mark.
“I’ll never forget this experience,” Fuqua said through tears and a cracking voice. “I’ll cherish it. To know that we gave it our all and we couldn’t come through, that will always hurt me but just knowing that my team was there for me and I was there for them, we fought together and we did our best. That’s enough.”
Fuqua scored 20 points and had seven assists for the Coursers in the title-game loss. Junior Nique Clifford led the team with 25 points.
“Our Achilles heel is ball pressure and being physical,” Vanguard coach Joe Wetters said of Manual’s press in the second half. “I think in the end the physicality of the game and the full-court, the excitement and the panic … that’s the game of basketball. You hope you can survive it.”
Clifford noted a barrage of bad luck hurt the team in the second half as they tried to find a solution for Manual’s press. But despite the struggle, his team kept their heads up.
“We had a good first half but the second half we had too many turnovers, we didn’t rebound well and none of our shots were falling,” Clifford said. “That was unfortunate but it was definitely a successful season. It sucks to lose the last game but if you look over the whole season it was definitely a success.”
Wetters said that Vanguard had looked at Manual as the No. 1 team all season, and hoped to face them on the state’s biggest stage.
“We felt like if we could play Manual in the championship game it would be one heckuva game,” Wetters said. “The two highest-scoring teams in the state running up and down with each other.”
A year ago Vanguard won its first playoff game, and the team entered the 2019 tournament with a chip on its shoulder, knowing it could have done more a year ago.
With that Vanguard made a "huge leap" as Courser coach Joe Wetters said.
“It’s pretty amazing when you talk about taking steps,” Wetters said. “To be playing at the last game of the season says a lot about this group and the goals we set this year. We held them to a higher standard. We were going to win.”
In addition to being a newer program — just 10 varsity seasons — Vanguard is also teetering toward the bottom of Class 3A in enrollment numbers with just 33 students above the classification cutoff number.
“It means so much that we barely have enough kids to be in 3A and that we can compete with whoever, anywhere in the state,” Wetters said. “The mentality of these kids is that they want to go out and prove themselves every night.”