It didn't take long for Red Mountain to come up with a motto for next year's girls basketball season.
Moments after watching St. Mary's celebrate its 69-57 victory over the Mountain Lions in the 5A Division I championship Wednesday night at Glendale Arena, Red Mountain point guard Bonnie Barbee thought of a rallying cry.
"I would really like to come back next year," Barbee said. "I was thinking, ‘Let's get 'em next year.’
"We will work harder. It will make us that much more focused. Next year, I really hope we take it."
On paper, the Lions should be a big favorite to make the next step and win the state title next season. While four of St. Mary's five starters were seniors, there was not a single senior on Red Mountain's roster. That means Barbee will be back to do what she excels at — directing the offense — and star center Kayla Pedersen will be back dominating inside.
"We know it's not going to be easy," said Pedersen, who finished with 24 points. "This gives us motivation for next year to come back and win it."
Pedersen thinks learning firsthand just what the championship game is all about will pay big dividends.
"It helped a lot just getting used to the bigger arena," Pedersen said. "This experience and the competition and the intensity will help us next year."
Red Mountain coach Martin Appel was quick to point out that just because he has his whole team back and St. Mary's graduates four starters, that doesn't mean the Lions are a lock to do something no other Mesa school besides Mountain View has accomplished — win a girls state basketball title.
"There is no guarantee," Appel said. "To get back, we have to work as hard if not harder than we did this year."
While Appel didn't allow any talk before the game about it being good practice for next season, he understands it will be.
"You never want to use it as a steppingstone," Appel said. "We talked about not being here to finish second best, go with everything we've got. "Obviously, that's going to help us down the road. It will help us out from tomorrow on. We're going to get after it."
It apparently helped St. Mary's having a taste of the title game. Last year, the Knights lost in the championship final to Highland.
"I am sure last year losing to Highland helped motivate St. Mary's throughout the year," Appel said. "They used that to their advantage."
The Lions have one very credible supporter who thinks they will return to the title game. The Knights' Dymond Simon, who torched the Lions for 30 points, likes their chances next season.
"They'll be back to the championship next year, I guarantee it," Simon said. "Red Mountain is a great team. Kayla, she's just amazing. Coach Appel is a great coach. He's going to get them back there next year."