That’s the word Rod Wescott uses to describe his Girard High School boys basketball team.
It’s not hard to see why the veteran coach selected that particular term.
Wescott’s Trojans overcame deficits in game after game en route to claiming the Kansas Class 3A state championship.
With a strong finish, Girard topped Beloit 49-45 in Saturday’s title game game at the Hutchinson Sports Arena.
“Their perseverance this year was really something,” Wescott said. “They showed a lot of mental toughness and physical toughness. I have to give our kids credit. They just kept battling.”
Girard captured its first boys basketball state championship in school history.
“I told the kids winning a state championship is something they’ll remember for the rest of their lives,” Wescott said. “We made a ton of good memories. It’s something I’ll never forget. We’ve been close before, but to get over the hump was very satisfying. We have a great group of kids. They’ve been fun to coach, and I’m just really proud of them.”
The Trojans had to come from behind in all three of the state tournament contests.
In the title game, Beloit used a 19-9 second quarter to take a 31-25 halftime lead. In a clash between Trojans, Girard trailed by five entering the final frame before outscoring Beloit 13-4 in the fourth quarter.
“It was quite the comeback,” said Wescott, who led the Trojans to a runner-up finish in 2009. “We had a lot of guys step up and hit big shots. Going in, we thought Beloit looked like the most talented team there, so we knew we had our work cut out for us. They had size and guards who could shoot the lights out.”
With Beloit focused on containing Girard standout senior guard Caleb Muia, other players had to step up, Wescott noted. And they did.
Ryder Worrell hit a game-tying trey before Carter Doherty converted a go-ahead putback with 1:25 remaining. Muia then sealed the deal by hitting 3-of-4 free throws.
Worrell went 4-for-8 on 3-pointers in the game, while Evan Troike and Dillon Collins also drilled key treys.
“All of them were big shots,” Wescott said. “We just kept making big plays on both ends of the floor, and we gave ourselves a chance. And we were able to get it done.”
In the state tourney opener, Girard topped Kingman 57-40. The Trojans trailed by five at the end of the first half but outscored Kingman 23-8 in the fourth quarter.
“It was a hard-fought victory,” Wescott said.
In the semifinals, Girard knocked off Thomas More Prep 62-50 in a game they trailed by five early.
“That was another hard-fought victory that went down to the end,” Wescott said. “It was a closer game than the final score showed. We were down again and had to battle back.”
The Trojans entered the state tourney battle-tested after a rigorous CNC League slate.
Once the postseason arrived, the Trojans had to overcome an 11-point deficit in the sub-state semifinals against Caney Valley just to advance to the title game.
“Our kids really battled and competed in that game,” Wescott said. “And we stepped it up defensively in the fourth quarter and did some nice things.”
In the sub-state title game, the Trojans won the rubber match with Baxter Springs 55-48 to punch their ticket to the state tourney.
“We knew we were in for a dogfight against a team we’d split with during the regular season,” Wescott said of the clash with the Lions. “The kids stepped up and really played well in that one, and that carried on to the state tournament.”
Wescott noted the season was full of defining moments.
“We had an overtime win at Parsons to start the year, and it’s been quite the run ever since,” he said. “We had some really tough games in our league. We had a big win against Baxter Springs to clinch the league title, and that was big.”
The 6-foot-4 Muia led the Trojans with 24 points and 10 rebounds a game this season. He averaged 22 points and eight rebounds a game during the state tourney.
“Athletically, he’s something else,” Wescott said. “He’s quick and has a good nose for the ball. He just has tremendous ability. He was capable of putting us on his back and taking over games at times.”
A senior point guard, Troike handed out six assists a game and was second on the team in rebounding.
“Evan had a great year,” Wescott said. “He was one of the toughest kids we’ve had come through Girard.”
A junior, Worrell was the team’s defensive stopper all year.
“He really came on in the state tournament and shot the ball well for us,” Wescott said.
Collins and Doherty contributed nicely as seniors, Wescott said.
“Dillon hit some big shots, and Carter is probably our most improved player,” Wescott said.
Senior forward Zane Henderson and sophomore guard Gabe Muia earned minutes off the bench, while sophomores Caden Lallemand and Logan Thomas also earned varsity letters.
In a season for the record books, the Trojans finished with the 2018-19 campaign with a record of 22-3.
Of course, the school now has some new hardware for its trophy case, as well.
“I really haven’t grasped it all yet,” Wescott said. “It’s like a whirlwind. My head is still spinning.”