Coach Jim Mason made the decision last summer that 2017-18 would be his last season coaching, ending a 22-year girls’ basketball legacy at Widefield.
But what Mason didn’t know was how far his talented squad of nine would take him in his final season.
“This is the most talent that we have had at the high school in a number of years,” Mason said. “(At the beginning of the season) I thought we could maybe get to the second round of playoffs and see where we go.”
From there, Widefield made history with a run to the Class 4A final four, pushing off Mason’s retirement just a little while longer.
With 317 wins, the best postseason run since 2003, and the 2017-18 Gazette Preps 5A-4A Coach of the Year honor, Mason caps off his coaching career and cruises into retirement.
The season began with some growing pains due to a new defensive scheme, but Mason said once the team understood the rotation, it clicked from there.
“All of a sudden a light went on defensively,” Mason said. “And offensively I knew we could score some points, and we had kids who could shoot the ball - but the season ended much greater than I could have expected.”
But just days before the regular season concluded, the Widefield girls’ basketball team suffered a setback that threatened the Gladiators' seed and momentum heading into the playoffs.
“In the last week of the season we went and played TCA and stunk up the gym,” Mason said of the Gladiators’ six-point loss to the Titans. “Taking the girls into the locker room I said, ‘Hey, we did this to ourselves.’ The kids were frustrated because the game was really important for our RPI.
“We came into our last game and I wasn’t really sure how we were going to respond against Canon City, who can make you do some awfully ugly things. But the kids came out and played phenomenal. From that point on I just knew the kids were ready. That was the big turning point.”
Widefield earned a first-round bye and cruised to a 42-point second-round win, pulled off a major upset of the No. 2 seed in the round of 16, and claimed a win at the buzzer for a ticket to the final four.
“Now we’re getting into the big boys, so as coaches we needed to do a better job to prepare the girls for what’s next,” Mason said. “We were going up against the defending champs (Evergreen in the semifinal) and only half of my kids had played in the first round of the playoffs and that’s it. So you could kind of see it on their faces walking into the gym like, ‘Oh my God, what is this place.”
Unfortunately for the Gladiators their Cinderella season ended in the state semifinal, but for Mason and his seniors, it was a heck of a way to end a high school career.
“During our summer program I knew I was done, and I was going to take this one last season, but these girls pulled on my heartstrings a little bit,” Mason said. “But it was time.
“One of the strengths of this program has been the stability of this coaching staff,” Mason said. “We’ve always prided ourselves in that - we’ve been there and done that, and seen everything that could happen and we ran a good program. Whether we were capable of beating you, we would at least come and compete. Whoever is going to come in and take over there’s still talent and a great opportunity for someone to come in and work with a great group of girls.”