The Bishop Ryan Lions dominated Class B girls basketball in 2012-13, and - for the most part - made it look easy.
Ryan was ranked No. 1 all season, finished 27-0, outscored opponents by an average of 38.2 points per game and didn't trail in a fourth quarter until the state tournament.
The Lions placed three players on the all-state teams, more than any other school in North Dakota. With those results and accolades, it's easy to brush off the Lions' supremacy as a product of vastly superior talent.
Guard Anika Rovig celebrates Bishop Ryan’s Region 6 title in the arms of forward Hannah Stewart at the Minot Municipal Auditorium in March. The Lions went on to win the Class B state championship to complete a 27-0 season.
MDN File Photo
But Ryan's success was earned, coach Julie Stewart said.
"They are blessed with some ability because they know how to work and they take the responsibility to develop as athletes and basketball players," she said. "I have girls that lift weights in the a.m. hours and shoot in the p.m. hours. Working hard breeds confidence."
After hardly being tested during the regular season - an eight-point win at Velva was the only game decided by single digits - the Lions remained poised in a couple of tight contests at the state tournament. Ryan beat Benson County 58-53 in the first round, Thompson 66-46 in the semifinals and Central Cass 54-50 in the championship.
The Lions handled the pressure of the tournament better than the previous year, when they lost in the first round and finished fifth.
"Anytime you have experienced it before, the excitement or the anxiety is a little less," Stewart said. "I do remember that first year we were almost giddy at being there. I think we really settled down and just kind of went to business. We didn't play perfect basketball by no means, but I did see the sense of confidence and the calmness in some of our players and that was great to see."
Sophomore forward Hannah Stewart, Julie's daughter, was named the tournament MVP after leading the Lions to their first state championship since 1993. She was selected to the all-state first team, and fellow 6-foot-2 sophomore Gabbie Bohl and junior guard Anika Rovig were second-team choices.
Ryan returned all but one player, graduate Quinn Harmon, from the state-title team. The top-ranked Lions are 5-0 and riding a 34-game winning streak dating back to the 2012 state tournament.