FORT COLLINS, Colo. — When a group plays not for the names on the back of their jerseys, but for the state across the front, something special happens.
The Colorado State women's basketball team is fortunate enough to have three contributing players from within the state, and all three played with or against each other in the highly competitive CHSAA 5A centennial league.
"Colorado plays really good women's basketball, and so to be able to get quality players like Makayla [Hemingway], Cali [Clark], Sydney [Mech], that's very special."
And each one brings a unique ingredient to the squad.
"Mak [Makayla Hemingway], Mak's a shooter, especially when she gets down in the low paint. Her turnaround shots are real nice," Sydney Mech said about her sophomore teammate.
Hemingway returned the favor.
"Sydney Mech, we played high school against each other and she guarded me--I hated when she guarded me--she's such a long defender," she said. "And then Cali Clark, our five, she's big time, big time."
"Cali's a huge post-up player, but she's also really quick," Mech added. "And she's such a great teammate, and she can shoot the three too, which is really nice."
The passion and the pain started from their high school days playing in one of the toughest leagues in Colorado. Hemingway played forward for Cherokee Trail from 2017 until 2020 and felt the misfortune of staring up at the leaderboard.
"It hurt, it hurt definitely having Creek and Grandview, the toughest teams in Colorado, just win," she said. "It just brought fuel to my fire."
Mech understood the winning ways of the Cherry Creek Bruins, as a key junior member of the 2017 final four team. Unfortunately, she also remembers some of the top players from two other schools who faced off in the state championship game.
"Back when I can remember, we had Michaela Onyenwere (Grandview), who now plays in the WNBA. We got to play against her and a lot of other good competition, like Fran Belibi (Regis Jesuit), now at Stanford," she recalled.
Cali Clark actually tasted victory with the Bruins. As a junior in 2019, Cherry Creek bested Grandview for the CHSAA Class 5A state championship. The two schools, with Clark as a senior, were slated to face off in a rematch for the state championship in 2020, but the game was canceled due to COVID-19. She earned a semifinal trophy (and an asterisk) that year.
Now, the three stars of the CSU Rams can show out night after night in front of a home crowd, earning support from family and inspiring the next generation.
"It's kind of cool to play for my state because I still have a lot of people here who support me," Mech said.
Hemingway said she feels like a hometown hero.
"It's big time actually, just being from Colorado," she said. "I have people that look up to me, regardless of how many minutes I get, and it brings a smile to my face knowing I can be there for them after the game and a simple high-five or hug can change someone's day."