The Rio Rico High School girls basketball team cut down the net Wednesday on a 2021 season in which they went undefeated in their conference, won the championship of their region, yet somehow didn’t qualify for the state tournament.

To offset the sting of the postseason snub, and to reward the players for excelling under unusually challenging circumstances, school officials honored the team with a ceremony in the school gym that, in addition to the net-cutting, included the unveiling of a banner, award presentations and plenty of accolades.

Hawk coaches Blake Cochran and Ben Hix talked of the constant COVID-19 testing and screening faced by the players, the limited number of spectators allowed into their games, and having to go into quarantine for 10 days after a mid-season game in Tucson against a team with a player who tested positive.

Once they came out of quarantine, the Hawks played five games in seven days to wrap up their season with a 6-0 regional record and 7-0 mark against other 4A Conference schools.

“Your resilience showed a lot this year – five games in seven days, that’s hard,” Cochran said. “We had injuries – all five starters, most of you were battling something – and you still went undefeated in your region and won that, so props to you.”

Hix spoke of the historic nature of the pandemic year and how it’s something the girls will remember forever. He decided to memorialize the season for the players by giving them each a team photo in which they are all wearing masks. He embellished the photos with a nickname he chose for the team.

“I called them the ‘silent champions’ of 2021 – they couldn’t say anything,” he said.

The text on the photos also notes their 4A Gila Region title and undefeated play against conference foes. And it reads: “COVID, masks, no fans, quarantines, 5 games in 7 days, season off and on, and playoffs?”

Referencing the team’s exclusion from the state tournament Hix said he added “playoffs” with a question mark “because I still don’t understand how that happened.”

“It’s a tribute to these girls that they stuck it out,” he continued. “They did everything we asked them to do, they were great.”

Hix and Cochran also gave shout-outs to the team parents for the roles they played in making the season possible.

The 2021 Hawks roster included seniors April Martinez, Alexis Mora and Yadelle Mendez; juniors Alexia Cano, Ivy Velasquez and Zenya Nido; sophomore Sheila Mendivil; and freshmen Andrea Cano,

Natalia Gomez, Tiffany Lopez and Johanna Holman. Dora Meza was the assistant coach.

“It was a challenging year, but this special group of ladies rose to the occasion,” RRHS athletic director John Fanning said during his remarks at Wednesday’s event.

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