Dave Lenz really tried not to look ahead.
He really did.
But the Melba girls basketball coach couldn’t help but think what his team was capable of this past season.
It ended up being historic.
The Mustangs went 24-1, setting a program record for wins on their way to the 2A Western Idaho Conference championship for the second season in a row, claimed the 2A District III title for the second straight season and took third place at the 2A State Girls Basketball Tournament.
For these accomplishments, the Melba girls basketball team is the Idaho Press-Tribune’s Sports Stars Girls Winter Team of the Year.
“We had the best season ever in Melba history,” Lenz said. “That’s quite the achievement right there and something we’re really proud of. “These girls spent a ton of time in the gym, were some of the hardest workers I’ve ever coached, paid attention and did whatever we asked. It was a really special group and they deserved everything they got. I’m going to remember them for a long time.”
The second-year coach had a lot to be excited about. He only lost two players from last season’s 22-3 team that won the 2A consolation championship. And Lenz replaced those with two dynamic freshman in Kate Clark and Paige Pentzer.
Better yet, back was the reigning 2A Western Idaho Conference Player of the Year and Weber State signee Kori Pentzer, who averaged 22.9 points, 8.5 rebounds, 5.5 steals, 2.3 assists and 1.3 blocks per game last season, not to mention All-2A WIC first-team guard Emma Clark.
With so much talent back, Lenz’s anticipation was validated and then some.
Melba went undefeated during the regular season and at one point tied with Eagle for the state’s longest winning streak at 25 games. The 25-game winning streak also broke a program record and was done in nothing short of dominating fashion.
The Mustangs won their games by an average margin of 33 points and all but one win came by double figures. It resulted in them being ranked the No. 1 team in the state in the 2A classification all season long.
“It was fun, but at the same time when we were in practice, it didn’t really feel like it,” senior MeKenna Manzer said. “We were stilled getting yelled out by our coaches and working hard every day. Even when we won by 30 we never thought that was good enough. There was always something we were working on. We always knew we could be better.”
But the Mustangs had a very uncharacteristic game in a 44-32 loss to Soda Springs in the state semifinals. They committed a season-high 18 turnovers and shot a season-low 27 percent (9 of 33) from the field.
The 32 points scored was the lowest point total in 53 games and it was the first-double digit loss since Jan. 22, 2016.
“I feel like we played pretty tense,” junior Emma Clark said. “It was a big game, we knew they were good and we knew we had to play our best. But I think we put too much pressure on ourselves, were timid and afraid to take some chances against them to figure out what could work.”
But less than 24 hours after the devastating defeat, Melba came right back out and ended the season the same way it began — with a win. The Mustangs routed Cole Valley Christian 55-29 in the third-place game to bring home the second state trophy in as many seasons.
“I’m not going to lie, it was really hard coming back out for that game. But we realized we had put in way too much work for it to all end like that,” freshman Kate Clark said. So we made it a point to come back out and show everyone who didn’t believe in us anymore that we were still really good and that one game didn’t define us.”
While the Mustangs lose Kori Pentzer, they will still bring back sisters Emma and Kate Clark who were both All-2A WIC first-team selections this season.
So Lenz should once again have a lot to look forward to next season.
“Hopefully the third time’s a charm.” Lenz laughed. “But in all seriousness, I think we will have a chance. We will be a different team that’s for sure and it will be a new challenge. But I’m excited for it and looking forward to it.”