The Salt River High School Lady Eagles, coached by Dino Puccetti, walked into the Talking Stick Resort Arena in downtown Phoenix with confidence as they were about to battle the Imagine Prep-Coolidge Lady Eagles for the Canyon Athletic Association (CAA) Division I State Championship game on Wednesday, February 24.
The SRHS Lady Eagles finished with a 22-1 record this season, sitting at No. 1 overall in the CAA division. The Lady Eagles did not disappoint, as they won their third state championship title with a 38-point victory.
“All year long, going into [each] game, we believed that if we executed on offense and defense, outworked our opponents and shared the basketball, we [would be] tough to beat. Every game our goal [was] to play hard, play smart [and] play together. So, going into the championship game, the focus was no different,” said coach Puccetti.
The Lady Eagles played Imagine Prep earlier in the season, winning by 25 points. Imagine Prep had plans of going into the championship game stronger and ready to beat the Lady Eagles this time around.
“After watching the film leading up to the championship game, I felt like we had a lot to clean up. I felt like we needed to handle their press better, move the ball more on offense before taking a shot, and improve our defensive intensity. There were minor adjustments, but the girls responded and I felt like they really took it in and executed what we were trying to do throughout the game. I really felt our intensity was outstanding,” added Puccetti.
At tipoff, the Lady Eagles gained possession of the ball, and within the first five seconds of the game, Mckenzie Gonzales came through with 3 points. This had fans jumping out of their seats as the game started out in the Lady Eagles’ favor. The Lady Eagles went on to score 21 points in the first quarter, as Imagine Prep trailed along with 7 points.
During the second quarter, both teams found themselves on the floor fighting for possession of the ball. The game got more intense, although this made it clear that both teams wanted to win. As the second quarter came to an end, Briah Johnson hit a 3-pointer and brought the score to 42. Imagine Prep ended the second quarter with 14 points.
As halftime came around, the SRHS band played some songs, getting the SRHS fans and supporters out of their seats. Fans made signs and dressed as Lady Eagles cheerleaders, and the SRHS Eagles mascot was in the stands with the fans, cheering.
The third quarter was just as intense as the first half. Although the Lady Eagles suffered a minor setback during the game, this did not stop the team from finishing strong. The Lady Eagles were strong with their rebounds and shots. They also managed to steal the ball a couple times. The third quarter ended with a score of 57-26.
During the last and final quarter of the championship game, the Lady Eagles proved they wanted the championship title more. Seniors Lucy Sanchez, Arianna Selina, Renee Pacheco and Jasmine Wolters had their eye on the championship trophy. The Lady Eagles had precise passes that drew fans out of their seats and 3-pointers that had everyone standing and cheering. The final score was 70-32, as the Lady Eagles celebrated their victory with all those in attendance.
Freshman Justine Cooper was the Lady Eagles’ Most Valuable Player (MVP), scoring a total of 24 points. She received a plaque, and each of the players and team members received a gold championship metal. The team celebrated on the court and continued the celebration into the arena’s entranceway.
“One of the best things about working at SRPMIC is the sense of community. This has been demonstrated all year by the support of the team from the staff at education/school sites, as well as other departments in the Community and the Community as a whole. I would want our supporters to know that we all share in this championship, and the coaching staff and girls are very grateful for the outpouring of support we have received all year long,” said Puccetti.
He added, “It has been a long journey, but looking back, there are so many memories that these girls will take with them. Those memories will last a lifetime, and I could not think of a more deserving bunch of young ladies than the group I have had the pleasure to coach this year. What a great feeling to know that you worked together to reach a goal, while doing it with class and integrity. I am proud of what the team has accomplished and even more proud of each of them as a person.”
“What made it so special, in my opinion, was that it allowed so many people from a magnitude of departments, roles and backgrounds to come together to support the team and ultimately each other. The championship game was more than just basketball, it was an example of the school culture we are building together,” said SRHS Principal Jon Gentile.
“These girls were special all year, averaging over a 3.0 grade point average in the classroom and supporting each other in positive ways when faced with adversity. The championship game was an extension of the great basketball we watched all year. This team put their own stamp on what is a rich girls’ basketball tradition here in Salt River,” said SRHS Athletics Director Brandon Tauscher.