Ranked 14th in the 4A bracket, it was clear the Mullen High School girls basketball team wasn’t favored to win the state championship this past season.
The school hadn’t won a state championship since 2011, and the girls basketball program hadn’t won since 2006.
These elements made the underdog’s 63-44 state championship win over Pueblo’s South High School even sweeter.
“Winning a state championship is a huge accomplishment,” said sophomore Alexa Dominguez. “But being the 14th seed makes it something else.”
Head Coach Frank Cawley said the team didn’t expect to win state but expected to win each individual game — a strategy that worked for the girls who, with the exception of one, had never competed in the state tournament before.
“Coming off of a losing season last year not even making the playoffs, we knew we wanted to prove to ourselves and to others that we could accomplish something great,” said senior captain Grace Oswald.
“Each and every day we came to the gym and worked harder than we had ever worked before,” she said. “We knew that whatever we put into it, was what we would get out of it. And so, we put everything we had into this season. And it definitely paid off.”
For Oswald, beating out teams ranked much higher was “the cherry on top.”
“We beat amazing teams on their courts, in gyms packed with their fans,” she said.
Cawley said the girls’ efforts in the off-season were vital, and that practices were “often more difficult than the games.”
“This group of girls is the most dedicated and close-knit group I have ever had the pleasure of coaching,” said Cawley, “and that was a key to their success.”
Perhaps a strong faith foundation (13 of the 14 girls attended Catholic grade schools) was also a contributing factor to their successful season.
“I wholeheartedly believe that faith was the reason we won the state title,” said Oswald, who explained the team prayed together before each game, and often individually on the court.
“I told [God] that we were playing for him and we were going to win for him,” said Oswald. “And he heard me.”
That trust helped the girls through the ups and downs of their 20-8 season.
“Being able to have our faith present with us allows us to have an outlet and someone to lean our problems, hopes, dreams and everything [on],” said Dominguez. “We are never alone, we always have God.”
Dominguez remembers faith’s role while her team waited nervously in the locker room for the championship game to start.
“We all held hands and said a prayer that ended with our familiar, ‘St. Jean-Baptiste de La Salle, pray for us,’” said Dominguez.
“Based on the results of our game, I know that he did.”