They came to Modesto Christian High as promising freshmen, role players on a team that made the Northern California Division 5 semifinals.
That immediate success led Taryn Garza and Brandi Henton to set a lofty goal, one the seniors have yet to achieve.
"We want to win state, that is our goal every year, and we have one last opportunity," said Henton, a 5-foot-8 point guard and The Bee's Player of the Year after taking MC to the D4 state final last season.
The Crusaders were headed to the title, leading Mater Dei of Chula Vista by 10 with four minutes to play, before they collapsed and lost 54-51.
"We thought the game was over," Henton admitted. "We went in at halftime and started celebrating. We had won."
Such a painful end to what appeared destined to be a storybook season carried over to the summer and this season.
"Motivation was not a problem for us," said Garza, a 5-11 center who like Henton has signed a letter of intent with a Division I college. "Every time we ran a drill, every time we got tired during practice, we'd all think of last year's game and we'd try to go a little harder."
Henton and Garza have suffered only a handful of losses at MC, their 93-21 record includes this season's 11-2 start, but there's no indication that either is content with the .816 win percentage they've built.
Was the grueling offseason, followed by this season's difficult schedule, enough to allow MC to take the final step?
Despite the confidence flowing from Henton and Garza, there's no telling. There are a few hurdles to overcome before MC can book its trip to the state final in Bakersfield:
There's a matchup against St. Mary's of Stockton — ranked No. 3 in the country by USA Today — on Jan. 27. St. Mary's will be the best team MC plays this season, regardless of who it might meet in the playoffs.
There's a likely NorCal final against St. Mary's of Albany, the team MC beat in overtime to win the regional title last season. The Panthers are even better this year, according to CalHiSports.com, and their No. 2 spot in the state D4 poll is ahead of No. 3 MC.
Survive those challenges and then there's a likely state title game with Harvard-Westlake, a North Hollywood prep school with a $34,000 tuition.
There's little risk of the Crusaders looking too far ahead, however, not so long as Robb Spencer heads the program.
"We've got Bradshaw Christian Saturday night and that is what we care about," Spencer said. "The girls have gotten close and I think it makes them want a title even more."
MC hosts Bradshaw Christian — the Sac-Joaquin Section's top D5 team now that the Crusaders have been promoted to D4 — as part of the eight-game Martin Luther King Shootout.
It's one of the linchpins in a difficult late-season schedule that MC must play if it is to have a shot at a state crown.
A lack of competition in the Trans-Valley League compels Spencer to create pressure situations late in the season, or MC risks losing its edge. The Crusaders have 55 consecutive league wins, and eight of last season's 10 league victories were by at least 40 points.
That's why MC played Clovis East last week and faces Lincoln of Stockton on Jan. 23. It's also why the St. Mary's game will be followed by a battle with Sacramento, No. 5 in the CalHi state D3 rankings.
"You see the way he works us in practice and you might wonder why we do it," Garza said. "But everything he does is to make us better. He won't let us get lazy just because we might win by a lot of points."
Things seemingly as minor as a missed layup can lead to an extended practice for all, regardless of who missed it.
"We have a drill where the girls have to make 20 layups in a row, and if they miss one, we start over," Spencer said.
It doesn't sound grueling, except the girls go the length of the court — using a weave pattern that doubles the distance they run — and must be in the right spot on the floor as the shot banks off the backboard and through the hoop.
Then come free throws ...
"Make your layups and free throws, you're going to win a lot of games," Spencer said. "More important, you're going to win the close games."
Bee staff writer Richard T. Estrada can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2300.