With the postseason far in the distance in high school girls' basketball, the win-or-go-home mentality is in full effect in an up-for-grabs Class 2A Black Forest League.
"Every night you must be prepared," Calhan coach Jim Elrick said. "You don't get too comfortable. We don't have nights off."
Longing for its first 2A title in 20 years, the Black Forest League's nine teams should be well prepared for regionals and state with what looks to be a gritty league fight leading up to it.
Through Wednesday, Ellicott (6-2, 2-0), Calhan (7-1, 2-0) and Simla (5-2, 1-0) are undefeated in league, and all playing well. But league coaches will tell you not much separates those teams from the likes of Evangelical Christian Academy (7-1, 1-1), or even Peyton (6-2, 0-2), who both suffered their only losses of the year inside the Black Forest. Peyton played late Thursday night.
"Most years you have one or two teams that you look and go, 'Yeah, they're the clear favorite if they stay healthy,'" Peyton coach Jeff Wiseheart said. "But this year it would be hard to tell you to go bet money on a particular team. I see five that are at least competitive with each other. It's going to be a lot of fun."
Since last season, the league lost Kiowa and added Miami-Yoder (3-6, 0-1), Fountain Valley (1-4-1, 0-1) and Dolores Huerta Prep (3-5, 0-1). But it will likely be one of the six teams that carried over - Simla, Ellicott, Calhan, ECA, Peyton, Colorado Springs School (7-4, 1-1) - that will end up atop the league.
"All of us are right there," ECA coach Bruce Beers said. "I think on any given night depending what's going on we could beat each other."
That appears to be the best prediction out there for how the Black Forest will shape up.
Take this for some clarity: Peyton beat Ellicott in nonconference only to lose to ECA by 31 points last week. And then, a day later, ECA went on to lose to Ellicott by six.
The margin is thin, Beers said.
"It's 2A basketball, none of us our very deep," Beers said. "So an injury or sickness, or anything like that, you're up against it."
The Lower Platte League has won four of the last five state titles. The Black Forest, though, is looking to close the gap.
"I think this is one of the better leagues in 2A," Elrick said. "I think we've become much better. I would say we're one of the stronger leagues."
The 2A regular season finishes Feb. 18 and districts end Feb. 25. The 2A state playoffs begin after that.