In the midst of a dismal 3-20 varsity basketball season, a beacon of hope shined brightly when the undefeated and highly talented freshman squad took to the court.
Finishing with 15-0 credentials that included several narrow victories, the freshmen flourished under the guidance of coach Matt Janish who was in his first year at the helm of the freshman program.
For win-starved Longhorn fans, the success of the determined frosh was a welcome respite. But there were no hidden secrets fueling the stirring triumphs, Janish said.
Rather, he said, "the team thrived on unselfish play and a willingness to improve themselves and their toughness."
Over the course of the season, the Horns ran roughshod over some opponents, but in other encounters, the mettle of the team was severely put to the test.
A pair of gut-checks Janish recalls most vividly were recorded against arch rival Snowflake.
In the first hardwood battle, Jan. l4 in Wilson dome, the Horns roared back from a 10-point deficit to survive a 43-38 thriller.
Less than a month later in front of a hostile Snowflake crowd in Lobo gymnasium, the young Horns rode a well-balanced scoring attack and good defense to a 50-44 victory.
Offensive leaders Nicky Cassuto and Chicago Houdek finished with 10 points each. Waylon Pettet had seven and Nathan Accord six.
The key to the stirring triumph occurred in the fourth quarter when the Horns held Snowflake to just a single three-point shot and two free throws.
Outstanding defensive play, the coach said, was nothing unusual for the freshman.
The coach cited Jake Swartwood, Houdek and Pettet as the team's defensive stalwarts.
Other nail-biting encounters the freshmen survived included a 76-72 overtime triumph Nov. 30 at Fountain Hills and a 48-40 win over Alchesay Jan. 18 in Wilson dome.
Against Fountain Hills in only the second game of the season, the Horns relied almost exclusively on the services of shooting star Dallas Rensch, who finished with a game-high 26 points.
Days earlier in a season-opening 56-35 triumph over Chino Valley, Rensch heated up the nets for 29 points.
Following those two prolific scoring outings, Rensch was moved up to the jayvee team where he finished the season. With Rensch no longer in the lineup, the Horn frosh had to look elsewhere for scoring.
That's when Alex Cassuto, Swartwood and Pettet came to the rescue.
Alex Cassuto turned in a sparkling 12-point effort against Blue Ridge, Swartwood tallied his season-high of 14 in a win over Show Low and Pettet tamed Alchesay, scoring 14.
But only days after Swartwood's prolific outing, the youngster was sent to the sidelines with an ankle injury. Making matters even worse was the suspension of several key players for disciplinary reasons.
Despite the misfortunes, the team was able to rally together, Janish said. In the absence of the starters, reserves David Curtiss, Derek Daniels, Chris Donaldson, Russell Wegner and Andrew Karlowski rose to the occasion.
The success of the team and ability of the players to weather adversity rendered the just-completed campaign a memorable experience for the coach.
"This was the most enjoyable year I have had in coaching," he said. "The team was outstanding all year and I'm very proud of their accomplishments."