The regular season had a different feel for Colorado Springs Christian School than it did for Manitou Springs.
Yet for two girls' basketball teams that looked to be heading in opposite directions early in the season, the destination is the same as the No. 4 Lions will face the 12-seed Mustangs on Thursday in the Class 3A quarterfinals at the University of Denver.
CSCS (22-2), only two years removed from a 5-15 record, has flourished in coach Mark Engesser's third season. After a stunning berth into the round of 16 a year ago the Lions have seized both the league and district titles this season, and are three wins away from a state championship.
"We've been working really hard and we'd love to see it pay off on the court," said Megan Engesser, the team's leader in points (17.3 points per game). "We've all done the little things to get better and it's been showing this year."
Manitou Springs (16-8) lost four of its first six games while feeling the effects of losing key seniors to graduation from last year's finals team. The Mustangs, winners of 10 of their last 11, pulled off their most impressive victory Saturday, beating No. 5 Faith Christian 47-30 in the round of 16.
"It was a little bit of a slow start," said Manitou Springs senior guard Shelby Megyeri, the team's points leader (17.4 ppg) for the fourth straight year. "But deep down I knew we were going to be contenders for state and that we were capable of making the state championship.
"We had a lot of new faces on varsity, so it was a lot of big changes but we're coming along."
The Lions have beaten the Mustangs twice this year. They won 34-31 on Jan. 24 and then had a 42-35 victory in the district semifinals two weeks ago.
"It's extremely hard to beat a team three times," Mark Engesser said. "The tendency is to think, 'We beat them twice. We're going to beat them again.' And that's absolutely not the case."
And on the flip side, he added, "they have a little revenge factor and a little bit more motivation, probably. It's just real difficult if you look at teams at any level trying to beat a team three times in a row."
The game will be at the Hamilton Gymnasium. Tip-off is slated for 4 p.m.