PHOENIX — When Sahuaro coach Steve Botkin addressed his team in a somber locker room following a 70-40 loss to Seton Catholic in the 4A state title game, he thought of how his team came together from different backgrounds and personalities to form an unforgettable bond.
He smiled in the midst of tears, including some of his own.
“It was one of the funnest years I’ve ever had and not just because we made it this far but because of the group that we had,” said Botkin, who reached his first state title appearance in his 15 years as Sahuaro’s coach.
“They were loving and caring and such an eclectic group. They have so many differences. It’s one of those things as a teacher and coach that you love to death. Kids you think you would never put together became friends and they will be friends forever.”
Alyssa Brown, a potential Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year, added about her team while wiping away tears, “We overcame a lot of obstacle issues together, a lot of family issues together. It’s really an honor to play with all of them.”
Botkin held on to the runner-up trophy outside of the Veterans Memorial Coliseum with a sense of pride. It was a symbol of how far the nine-member senior class and junior standouts such Brown, Lucky Franke and Lilly Watson have taken his program.
“You got those three (Brown, Franke and Watson) who have played 90-some basketball games coming back for a fourth season with two Final Fours and a runner-up in the state finals, you got a bright future,” Botkin said. “Now, I just want to take a deep breath and enjoy this moment.”
Sahuaro, in its first state title appearance since 2000-01, completed its season 28-2.
Seton Catholic (26-3) won its 11th state title under Karen Self, who has coached the Sentinels since 1991-92.
Seton Catholic showed its balance with four players scoring either 10 or 11 points lead the team — Sasha Daniel, Annemarie Trojanovich and Amanda Barcello with 11 and Lexi McNabb with 10. Barcello is the sister of former guard Alex Barcello and McNabb is the daughter of former NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb.
Scary thought: All of Self’s players are returning next season.
Seton Catholic starts off the day in a big way with the 70-40 win in the 4A championship game! pic.twitter.com/2PFbfkzmUU
— Arizona Prep Spotlight (@AZPrepSpotlight) February 29, 2020
Although the Sentinels just completed a championship run, Self said her team is still a work in progress.
“Honestly, we threw out our playbook in mid-December. We started with a read-and-react offense and we’re still learning that,” Self said. “That just gives us more opportunity to grow.”
Not exactly encouraging news for 4A opponents, including Sahuaro, for next season’s state tournament. Self and other coaches, however, must prepare for a more seasoned Brown, who could become the first Southern Arizona player — boys or girls — to reach 3,000 career points.
“She’s freaking phenomenal,” Self said of Brown. “She’s a great player. She just goes to work and does her job. She has a great attitude.
“She’s very tough to stop. I had to call a timeout late in the game because she was making our players foul out of the game. She has great body control.”
Brown went to the free throw line 18 times (made nine) while Seton Catholic as a team attempted 19 (with 13 made).
“It’s definitely appreciated; I take it to heart,” Brown said of Self’s comments about her. “She’s a phenomenal coach so I appreciate the compliment.”
Sahuaro trails 39-16 at halftime. Alyssa Brown leads the Cougars with 10. Seton Catholic’s full-court press has caused some havoc. Sahuaro was a bit rushed in the half with many turnovers and forced shots. pic.twitter.com/agddqPQlOZ
— Javier Morales (@JavierJMorales) February 29, 2020
Brown finished the season with a state-record 932 points, which gives her 2,094 for her career. That ranks her No. 25 in the state’s history for career points. She passed former Santa Rita star Paula Pyers (2,082 points from 1980-84) to reach No. 25.
“I know a lot of people are saying she will score 3,000 points and that would be amazing if she ended up being the state’s all-time leading scorer, but I also want her to enjoy the ride and just do what she does and not become one of these overbearing things for her,” Botkin said.
“She’s smart. She’s got a great head on her shoulders.”
If you treat winning and losing championships as the end then there is nothing won but plenty lost. Championships are part of a journey and the journey continues. Proud to know these young women during their journey and each step is as important as the next @_SHSgirlhoops pic.twitter.com/3zQbyMVdFG
— Andy Morales (@AndyMorales8) February 29, 2020
Botkin plans on developing Sahuaro’s bond for next season with summer tournaments in Las Vegas and San Diego, a strategy he used last summer that paid dividends for his “eclectic” group clicking this season.
Brown starts working with her club team AZ Supreme starting tomorrow with Franke, which she said will be a good way for her to look ahead instead of think about today’s shortcoming.
“I’m ready to take my skills to another level,” Brown said. “As a team, we worked some with our JV and freshman teams this year. So we definitely jumped the gun and we’re ready to be a factor again next year.”
She then managed to smile.
The 2020-21 season figures to be a memorable one for her and Sahuaro.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.