Sweet victory: Mullen girls basketball takes state title for first time in 13 years

Moira Cullings

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.”

COMING UP: Repenting and renewing our role as shepherds

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Jesus tells the disciples in St. John’s Gospel, “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep,” contrasting his goodness with the thieves who come only to steal and destroy.  This past week my fellow U.S. bishops and I sought to act as good shepherds by approving three measures to increase our vigilance and prevention of the evil of sexual abuse by bishops, shepherds who have betrayed the flock entrusted to them.

This last weekend we celebrated Father’s Day, which should remind biological and spiritual fathers of their great responsibility of protecting and raising up new life. This mission is further emphasized by the Rite for the Ordination of a Bishop, which says, “In the Church entrusted to you, be a faithful steward, moderator and guardian of the mysteries of Christ. Since you are chosen by the Father to rule over his family, be mindful always of the Good Shepherd, who knows his sheep and is known by them, and who did not hesitate to lay down his life for them.” This is the model for all bishops.

But the scandals of Theodore McCarrick, Bishop Bransfield and others have made it clear that our vigilance has not been adequate. To quote from the just-issued “Affirming Our Episcopal Commitment” statement, “We, the bishops of the United States, have heard the anger expressed by so many within and outside of the Church over these failures.  The anger is justified; it has humbled us, prompting us into self-examination, repentance, and a desire to do better.” This sentiment was clear in my interactions with my fellow bishops in Baltimore this past week.

As evidence of our commitment, we overwhelmingly passed a set of directives for the bishops’ conference to implement Pope Francis’ Vos estis lux mundi document on handling abuse by priests and bishops. These directives include the creation by May 31, 2020 of a third-party phone and online system that receives reports of potential violations by bishops, the establishment of a protocol in which the Holy See designates and authorizes metropolitan archbishops to investigate cases of alleged abuse by bishops, and the expectation that the investigating bishop involve lay experts in assisting with these inquiries. For any investigations that falls under my jurisdiction, I will ensure that lay experts are involved, as I’ve done throughout my time as a bishop. As the new directives indicate, I will also appoint a lay person to receive complaints from the third-party reporting system, publicize how to make reports, ascertain the credibility of reports and gather any additional information necessary for an investigation to commence.

I also want to highlight that the bishops overwhelmingly approved protocols for imposing limitations on former bishops who were removed from office for grave reasons and that we adopted a code of conduct for bishops, which explicitly states that the Dallas Charter will now include bishops.

All these measures are in addition to those we have been enforcing since 2002 in relation to preventing sexual abuse of minors by priests. The Archdiocese of Denver has a strong track record of actively working to protect children, including annual audits, background checks of employees and clergy, and a code of conduct that previous bishops and I have all signed, and a robust training program aimed at fostering safe environments for children. The effectiveness of these measures over the past 20 years has made us a model for other institutions seeking to combat abuse.

Pope Francis rightly noted in a January 2019 personal letter to the U.S. bishops that the consequences of our failures cannot be fixed by being administrators of new programs or committees.  They can only be resolved by humility, listening, self-examination and conversion.

My brother bishops and I hope that by obeying the Word of God, seeking the will of the Father and embracing what the Church expects of us, we will imitate Christ, the Good Shepherd.

Read more

Pope Francis’ motu proprio Vos estis lux mundi can be read at: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/motu_proprio/documents/papa-francesco-motu-proprio-20190507_vos-estis-lux-mundi.html

The USCCB Directives implementing Vos estis can be read at: http://www.usccb.org/about/leadership/usccb-general-assembly/2019-june-meeting/upload/usccb-modified-amended-directives-2019-06.pdf

Reach out

Christi Sullivan serves as the Protection Specialist for the Office of Child and Youth Protection and can be reached at 303-715-3241 or Christi.Sullivan@archden.org.

Victims of abuse can reach out to Dr. Jim Langley, the Victim Assistance Coordinator, at 720-239-2832 or Victim.Assistance@ArchDen.org.