It may not have been the picture perfect ending the Pusch Ridge Christian Academy girls’ basketball team wanted.
But it was pretty close.
Continuing on a successful regular season, the lady Lions made a push to the D-III state quarterfinals before being eliminated last Wednesday by Goodyear team Estrella Foothills.
But the 44-34 loss wasn’t the lesson that defined the season.
That lesson – paradoxically formulated in a mature manner by a team with zero seniors – was selflessness and resilience during a season that was plagued with injuries.
“The tough part is knowing that if everyone was healthy, we’d probably be playing longer than we did,” said head coach Lonnie Tvrdy. “The main reason we did well was because the players were unselfish and bought into team defense.”
Even with the numerous injuries, which included a broken hand, torn ACL, and fractured shin, the Lions surpassed the expectations of many in their run to the quarterfinals.
“As a whole, in the beginning of the season, not a lot of people were going to be a factor in Division III after losing all our seniors last year,” said Tvrdy. “The one group that thought we’d be good was the team and the coaching staff.”
The young Lions team made that motive clear from the get go, jumping out to a 9-0 record before dropping a game. They would go on to finish 25-6 overall.
Ranked third heading into state playoffs, Pusch Ridge earned a first round bye before defeating Monument Valley 54-48 in the second round.
Despite their elimination one game later, the Lions have a lot to look forward to next year with six senior leaders, including Mariah Rotors and Olivia Christian, who led the team with 14.1 and 13.1 points per game, respectively. The bond formed during the season could prove to be another threat for opponents.
“This team really learned to care for one another,” said Tvrdy. “By the end of the season, this was one group that was pulling for one another. This has been one of the more enjoyable seasons as a coach. They’ll be ready to work hard and make sacrifices next year. The state championship is the goal.
“It’s not about winning section. They want to win it all.”
The D-III tournament wrapped up on March 1 with No. 7 Fountain Hills upsetting top seeded Valley Christian 51-36 to claim the title.