Rolling Meadows' seniors capped one of the area's most improbable turnarounds on Saturday night at Illinois State's Redbird Arena.
Despite their 60-44 loss to Whitney Young in the Class 4A championship game, the Mustangs became the first Mid-Suburban League girls basketball program to play in two state title games, not to mention in back-to-back years.
"A lot of teams don't get that opportunity in this environment," said Mustangs coach Ryan Kirkorsky on the IHSA telecast prior to the game.
Five years ago, who would have thought the Mustangs would have one opportunity?
Going into the 2010-11 season, they had lost 49 straight games in the Mid-Suburban East.
Then came in a few freshmen by the names of Jackie Kemph, Alexis Glasgow and Jenny Vliet.
It took the Mustangs just one game that season to break the conference losing streak, and soon they were on the path to breaking school records.
In their second league game, Kemph scored 15 points in a 43-38 victory over Buffalo Grove.
That win gave the Mustangs a 2-0 record and set them up for a first-place MSL East battle with Hersey (also 2-0) after six straight years finishing at the bottom of the MSL East.
The Mustangs were off to an 8-0 start that year and had everyone taking them seriously.
Anne Marie Lynch, a junior on that team who was in her third varsity season, knew the significance of that start.
"Absolutely unbelievable," she told the Daily Herald after the 8-0 start. "Coming here from my first year (9 wins in the 2009-10 season and none in conference) and watching how the program has grown has been so exciting."
Those rookies on the team were quite excited, too.
"It feels great and we're doing it for our seniors who have started it," Kemph said after the Mustangs had started her freshman season with eight straight wins.
Well, four years later, Kemph and Co. can be proud of the way they finished it.
They have set countless team and individual records along the way.
As a freshman, Kemph talked about what a family she was part of while playing for former coach Todd Hatfield's team.
"That's that's what helps us so much," she said in that rookie season when the Mustangs ended up 5-5 in the East after four winless seasons. "So much of this is our team chemistry. As you can see, we all do it with a smile."
The Mustangs have been smiling ever since.
The next three years they would lose only once in the MSL East and won the crown at Fremd in 2012.
Even three years ago, Hatfield knew he had something special.
"Our freshmen aren't freshmen," he said that season, referring to Jackie Kemph, Glasgow and Vliet who would go on to score more than 4,000 points combined.
They were eventually joined by Ashley Montanez, who transferred from Leyden as a sophomore, and classmates Sami Kay, Allie Kemph, Elizabeth Vasilogambros and Katie Shewmon.
Hatfield, who taught in the technology department at Rolling Meadows, stepped down to pursue a second master's degree.
Kirkorsky, who had been the Elk Grove head coach, took over the Meadows reigns in 2012-2013.
That same season, his Mustangs became the first MSL team to play for a state title since Buffalo Grove, his alma mater, won the Class AA crown in 2000 under Hall of Fame coach Tom Dineen.
The only other MSL coach to win a state crown was Marcia Krysh, whose Elk Grove Grenadiers did it in 1981.
The only other Cook County Daily Herald area team to play for a state title is Maine West. Coach Derril Kipp's Warriors won it in 1988 and were second in 1993.
Rolling Meadows' Class 4A runner-up trophy will be on display Monday when the Mustangs will be honored in the main gym at 2:30 p.m.
It will join the one from last year when the Mustangs fell on a putback shot in the final second to Marian Catholic.
The Mustangs leave Bloomington at about 10 a.m. Sunday and are expected to have a police escort back to the school.
They will return as the only MSL girls to have medals from two state championship girls basketball games.