They didn't have their full team until well into December. First-year coach Dennis O'Reilly was coming over from rival Desert Christian. A team with eight seniors was being asked to embark on a new way of playing basketball.
In spite of all these factors, the Pusch Ridge boys basketball team went unbeaten in league play, finished 21-8, earned a #7 seed in the 2A playoffs, and won its first-round playoff game.
The Lions were eliminated in the second round on Saturday by Precision, 72-58.
"We're sad to see it's over," O'Reilly said. "They had a tremendous point guard who broke us down and hit a lot of threes. Another kid hit some great shots."
The Panthers were also the defending 2A champions, although they had lost several players from last year's squad. This year's version still had Brandon Ehlinger who averaged 22 points a game, while Jaques Patton averaged another 20 points a game.
In the loss, Trever Cook led the Lions with 22 points, while Tyler Kaveloh had 10 points.
"I think that Cook, Kaveloh and Greg Schimke have played together since the fourth grade," O'Reilly said.
After Precision made a buzzer shot, the Lions trailed by eight at the half. Precision made 14 of 29 from the field, almost 50 percent in the first half, while the Lions shot 10-24 for 42 percent.
Once the Lions fell behind, they were unable to get within striking range. Pusch Ridge shot 33 percent in the second half.
Friday, the Lions opened the playoffs with a 50-34 win over Camp Verde.
They built an 18-8 lead, and Schimke nailed a three-pointer from the corner.
"We moved the ball well," O'Reilly said. "Our defense was designed to keep it one and done."
A three-pointer by Trever Cook at the buzzer gave Pusch Ridge a seven-point lead at halftime.
Scoring was well balanced. Jeremy Courtney had 11 points. Cook and Kaveloh scored 10 each, while Schimke added nine.
O'Reilly said coming to Pusch Ridge was a good fit.
"They embraced me and I embraced them," he said. "We didn't have summertime together, or a pre-season. To their credit, they were willing to accept a new system from a new coach."
The Lions never lost two games in a row.
"Give them credit," O'Reilly said. "They're great character guys."
The Pusch Ridge girls team was squeezed out in Friday's 2A action by St. John's, 33-31.
Cheyenne Link, the team's lone senior, went out in style with 18 points and was 8-13 on the foul line.
"If you're going out," said girls coach Lonnie Tvrdy, "Cheyenne was tremendous. It was hard to see her lose this. She could be very proud of her effort.
"We had the ball with a minute left (in the game)," Tvrdy said. "They got a layup." A three-point attempt by the Lions fell short at the buzzer. "We weren't cutting off the basket (defensively)," Tvrdy said. "Free throw shooting's been a problem this season." In the playoff loss, Pusch Ridge made 15 of 30.
Going into the season with a very young team, Tvrdy thought he'd have a .500 team.
The Lions finished the season at 22-7 and earned a #7 seed in the 2A playoffs.
"It's a good group of kids."
In other local action, the Canyon Del Oro boys and girls teams both lost their first-round games. The CDO boys (11-13) lost to El Mirage, 65-59, although Josh Lewis had 29 points for the Dorados. The CDO girls (14-14) lost to Glendale Raymond Kellis, 76-46.