The La Conner girls' basketball team went further than ever last season.
With a bevy of talented scorers, an intense approach to defense and a deep bench, the Braves went 23-3 and advanced to the Class 2B state title game. The runner-up finish was the best-ever in program history, bettering a third-place finish in 2015.
"The whole journey is a lot of fun. There will be difficult parts. There are bumps in the road. But this year the journey was fun," coach Scott Novak said.
For the Braves' historic season, Novak is the Skagit Valley Herald Coach of the Year.
Novak guided the Braves to their previous top-five finishes, including the third-place finish in 2015 and a fifth-place finish in 2019. But he's quick to hand off the credit to others, including three former La Conner players who are now assistant coaches: Jesse Edwards, Lynette Cram and Loran James.
He also had a talented crop of players, including Justine Benson, who became the program's all-time leading scorer and the county's fourth-leading scorer during a season where she averaged 16.6 points, and was named to the Class 2B All-State team and was Northwest 2B/1B League MVP.
Three Braves (Sarah Cook, Morgan Herrera and Juna Swanson) were named to the all-league first team, while two others (Rachel Cram and Ellie Marble) were second-team selections.
"They're all high achievers, not just in basketball but other sports, school, whatever they're juggling. It was a privilege to coach the group," Novak said.
They were also tested. Knowing the team's potential, Novak scheduled a tough nonleague schedule that included matchups with King's, Wahkiakum and Class 2A opponent Anacortes.
The game against King's — one of the Braves' few losses — was an important lesson that helped get the team as far as it got, Novak said.
"When you're used to winning, a loss can feel like you've lost more than one game. But we learned a lot from that game," he said.
He said the tough schedule overall helped.
"Throughout my career I've tried ... to play as many tough nonleague opponents as possible," Novak said. "It depends on the level of your own team but we always try to play a challenging schedule. We were able to play top competition. A lot of times, the girls have heard me say 'They're not good by accident.' They've put in a lot of time."