Before last season’s 17-13 record in basketball, Gilbert Mesquite girls hadn’t finished above .500 since 2008-09.
But building off of last year’s modest success, Mesquite has elevated itself to the upper echelon of Division I this season, entering the week third in power points at 19-5.
At times, the sudden improvement has taken even coach Candice Gonzales by surprise.
“This team that I have this year has superseded my expectations,” Gonzales said.
“Their maturity and the hard work that they’ve put in is just amazing — above and beyond.
“This is probably one of the first times in Mesquite’s history that we’ve had this kind of foundation.”
Mesquite’s deep class of eight seniors surely has something to do with it. Chief among them is 5-foot-9 captain Cecily Wilson, who leads virtually every statistical category with 19 points, 9.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 4 steals.
Just as important has been her work behind the scenes, setting the example for her teammates to follow.
“I take my captain job very seriously,” Wilson said.
“I really want to win a state championship, and I know my team does, too. It’s my job to hold them accountable and be that leader that they need out there, and get them going.”
Mesquite has battled inconsistency this season, claiming impressive victories over Phoenix Desert Vista and Mesa Dobson — the two teams ahead of it in the power rankings — but at times putting up disappointing showings, as in a pair of losses to Phoenix Mountain Pointe.
Still, Mesquite will enter the Division I playoffs with a legitimate chance to bring home the program’s first state title.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better season,” Gonzales said.
“The girls have given me everything they’ve got, and I know they have a little more to give.”
For players like Wilson, it represents the end of a long and rewarding journey.
“I’ve been waiting for this to happen since freshman year,” she said. “My dad always told me, ‘Your time is coming. You’re going to get there.’ So it’s been great to see it happen.”