In 2011-12, the Bradshaw Mountain High girls' basketball team proved it was becoming a program on the rise in the Division II ranks.
Under first-year coach Efren Badilla, the Bears exceeded expectations by finishing the season with an 18-2 overall record in power-point games and subsequently garnering a No. 4 seed into the state tournament.
Bradshaw, which earned an opening round bye as one of the division's top eight seeds and an automatic qualifier in the 24-team state field, nipped Scottsdale Notre Dame Prep, 47-45, in overtime in the ensuing round Feb. 17 at home.
Although the Bears went on to lose to Phoenix Thunderbird, 50-42, in the quarterfinals at Grand Canyon University Arena a few days later, they gained valuable experience heading into the 2012-13 campaign.
The current season started late last week at the Desert Edge Tournament in Goodyear. BMHS finished the tourney with a 3-1 record and won the consolation bracket.
"I'm so happy with our team this year," Badilla said Tuesday afternoon. "I honestly believe we have all the pieces to get there (to state) and go all the way to contend for a title."
The coach is so optimistic because he has six returnees on an 11-player roster, including three starters from that state-qualifying club in senior small forward Angie Banks, junior point guard Kirsten Smith and junior forward/center Kylie Morris.
Clutch-shooting senior guard Jessica Olivas, sophomore swing Ashlie Dowdy and junior center Dacie Clark also come back as key members.
Olivas and Clark will join Banks, Morris and Smith in the tentative starting lineup this winter.
Badilla has called up senior swing Nicole Salcido, junior forward/center Crystal Skorick and sophomore shooting guard Kaitlyn McKenna from last season's JV team. He's also added senior post Miranda Angulo and freshman forward Dylan Arnest.
The coach said he likes the versatility he has on the current team, as a good handful of the girls can play different positions.
"We can definitely play small ball, and we can play big with the addition of a few of the girls that came in this year," Badilla said. "We add a little bit more height and depth to our team."
Offensively, the fleet-footed Bears prefer to push the ball up the court as much as possible in transition to generate easy points rather than set up very many plays in the half-court. Badilla admits that his team needs to improve on the press break, however.
"We're in the learning process there," he said. "We're running new stuff in this year."
In the off-season, BMHS lost only two players to graduation in guard Gabby Jeffries and post Katie Rogge, both of whom started.
Last season, Bradshaw primarily competed with an eight-player roster, although Badilla later brought up Skorick and Salcido.
While the squad lacked depth, it possessed talent. In 2012-13, the Bears have both, leaving them with more of a margin for error if someone suffers an injury.
"I'm pretty confident with the 11 that we have," Badilla said. "It will definitely give our starters a good rest during games so they're 100 percent throughout the whole game."
Badilla took over the Bears program from former coach John Tobin, who stepped down after the 2010-11 season because of health problems. Bradshaw squeaked into the former 16-team Class 4A, Division I state tournament in 2011 as the 16th seed, but lost in the first round to Phoenix Shadow Mountain.
In 2011-12, Bradshaw automatically qualified for the reformatted Division II state tournament by winning in the quarterfinals of the inaugural D-II, Section II tourney, but the hometown squad lost in the sectional semis.
Badilla believes that the Bears will return to state and go deeper into the playoff bracket behind a strong defense.
"We're very disciplined as far as when we play our zone defense, or even man-to-man," the coach said.
Bradshaw played its home opener Tuesday against Glendale Kellis and hosts Flagstaff High, a 2011-12 state playoff qualifier, at 5:30 p.m. Friday.
"We're just going to do what we do," Badilla said of his Bears. "We're definitely not going to take any team for granted."