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  • Writer's pictureAnne Delaney

Orediggers Looking For Big Prize

Whenever she has any available free time between classes, there is a good chance Denali Pinto is doing schoolwork.


As a 4.0 student in chemical engineering at Colorado School of Mines, where Pinto is also a top player for the nationally ranked Division II Orediggers, there is no other way for the 6-foot guard to be a successful student athlete.


“Time management is huge,” said Pinto, who is a two-time, first-team College of Sports Information Directors of America Academic All-America selection. “You need to be very disciplined and know the time that you have. I think it’s just knowing yourself and what you need to do to study effectively, and kind of understand that material.”


Planning and communicating with professors about conflicts related to being an athlete at the picturesque Golden, Colorado college are also important components in Pinto’s schedule. Road trips for away games sometimes mean she will miss classes, and practices might prevent her from making a professor’s office hours.


Keeping the professors informed on her schedule and status on the athlete side of her student-athlete persona is also “huge,” Pinto said.

“Letting them know ahead of time has been super helpful and beneficial,” she added, again emphasizing the need to be efficient with her time off the court.


Pinto’s major is chemical engineering with a biological track and a minor in biomedical engineering.


She chose chemical engineering because of the diversity of the field. There are a lot of ways chemical engineering may be applied, Pinto said. She said she’s always had an interest in biology and human biology, leading to the biological-based pathway at Mines.


Biomedical engineering focuses on medical devices such as prosthetics and surgical equipment. Pinto said she is trying to get an internship in the field for next summer.


While successful with her classwork, Pinto has also done well on the court for Mines. Very well. Pinto, who is from nearby Boulder, led the Orediggers with 13.9 points per game last year and surpassed the 1,000-career point milestone. Pinto has 1,227 points in three seasons, ranking sixth all time in scoring and fourth in 3-pointers heading into her senior year.


Pinto set a single-season program record by shooting 88.5% from the free throw line last year. Pinto’s name is in the Mines record books in 19 different categories and she has two seasons of eligibility remaining.


Head coach Brittany Simpson first became familiar with the star when Pinto was a freshman in high school. Pinto went to Fairview High School in Boulder, and Simpson, the winningest coach in school history, soon realized “we have to find a way to get this kid.”


Simpson received an email and video from Pinto’s high school coach, and knew Pinto was smart and had an interest in engineering.

“At the end of the day, she wanted to be an engineer and that is the reason we actually got her,” Simpson said. “She came here for academics first.”


Simpson was an assistant coach from 2008-12 at Mines before becoming the head coach in April 2013. She described Pinto as a “program-changing” player for school.


“Obviously on the basketball court she is amazing, but then to think about what she’s doing in the classroom at Mines, she’s just a phenomenal person,” Simpson said. “What she means to us, she’s a captain on our team, a go-to kid, when we need a bucket, we go to Denali.”


Simpson said heading into this season she has seen a “seriousness” from Pinto on defense. The team is implementing changes on the defensive end, and Pinto has rolled with those. The rest of the team is following her lead.


Pinto is from an athletic and active family, which played a part in how she received her first name. Her parents, James and Tammy Pinto, are “outdoorsy people,” Denali said. She is named for Denali National Park in Alaska where her parents were engaged while hiking. Pinto also hikes, when she has time, and she has some favorite spots in the Boulder area.


James Pinto played soccer and baseball in his younger days, Denali said. Tammy played basketball and a few years of softball in college. Her younger brother, Brody, played basketball and volleyball and he’s a freshman on the tennis team at St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY.

“I love my name,” she said. “I love how unique it is. I’m glad they had that awesome experience.”


The Orediggers start the year tied for No. 23, according to a Nov. 2 Women’s Basketball Coaches’ Association (WBCA ) pre-season poll. The national ranking is the first for the Mines program, and follows the team being picked to finish first and defend its Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference title. Mines finished 14-3 in the RMAC and 17-3 overall.


Pinto, who was a state-champion tennis player at Fairview High School in Boulder, is a three-time RMAC first-team selection.

“I think that it’s amazing to be ranked nationally entering the season,” she said. “It’s a cool feeling. The pre-season polls are tough because you really don’t know how teams are going to change over the summer, who is coming back. I think it is awesome to be ranked and to be recognized like that. But I think the season will tell what position each team is in.”


Mines saw its first on-court action November 1 in an exhibition game against the University of Colorado at Boulder. Pinto had plenty of fans at the game, with the chance to play in her hometown. Both Pinto and Simpson said the game against a Pac-12 Conference team was a good experience, and the Orediggers learned plenty about themselves, even as CU won, 63-52.


From the game against the Buffs, Mines saw where it needs to improve as a team. That was information Simpson and the players wanted to know; a theme for Mines this year is to get better. It is how the team approaches basketball — at practice and in games — to get better.

“It became clear to me that this was the best exhibition game that we could’ve got,” Simpson said because of the way the Buffs play.

Colorado showed Mines an aggressive pressure, trapping man-to-man defense. Simpson says this played into her team’s plan to use the game to improve, and the Buffs exposed some of her squad’s deficiencies on offense.


A day later, Simpson said the Orediggers worked on handling pressure defense during practice.


“That was a big takeaway,” Simpson said of the CU game. She added Colorado broke down Mine’s defensive rotations, allowing the exhibition experience to be “very productive.”


Mines opens the regular season at 7 p.m. Nov. 12 against St. Mary’s University (San Antonio, Texas) in the RMAC/Lone Star Challenge at Regis University in Denver. The Orediggers play St. Edwards (Austin, Texas) at 6 p.m. Nov. 13 in the second game of the challenge.


The schedule also includes two games in Puerto Rico during Thanksgiving break. Mines begins its RMAC games in late November.

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