EAGLE — Cody Pickett was almost at a loss for words.
When the Eagle girls basketball coach was asked about how much his three seniors meant to this year’s team? He could only get out a couple of words — “a ton.”
And even that may be putting it lightly. Seniors Janie King, Katelyn Murray and McKenna Emerson have won 85 percent of the games they’ve been in. At 88-16, they are the winningest class in program history, part of the first ever back-to-back 5A District III championship team and led Eagle to the best start in school history.
But the Mustangs’ Big Three are not done yet. They will look to pad their already historic resume one last time at this week’s 5A State Girls Basketball Tournament at the Idaho Center by doing something never before accomplished in program history — win a state title.
Eagle (24-0) opens the tournament at 1:15 p.m. Thursday against Boise (16-10).
“They have been a really special class. There really isn’t any other way to put it,” Pickett said. “The biggest thing about them is they’re not worried about individual accomplishments. They have bought into the team wholeheartedly and it shows in their play.
“They are wonderful players and it’s a pleasure to coach them. They do everything you ask of them and they are going to be dearly missed.”
Pickett recognized it early on. The class of Emerson, King and Murray and seven others were going to be something special.
The writing was on the wall. They won an AAU championship in the 8th grade and in their first season in high school, Eagle went from eight to 18 wins.
The Mustangs won the consolation championship that same season for their best finish in at least five years.
“That’s where all of this really started,” Murray said. “It was really cool to see just how much the program turned around that year.
“That’s when we really started learning each other’s playing styles. And the older we got, the more it all just clicked.”
But fast forward to this season and there are only three left. But what a three they’ve been for the Mustangs.
Murray is the team’s leading scorer with 13 points per game. The Army signee is also the leading rebounder at 143 boards and counting.
King is the shooter. The soon-to-be University of Idaho product is shooting 52 percent from two-point range and is third on the team in scoring at 9.3 points per game.
Last but certainly not least is Emerson. There is arguably no better defender in the state than the future Northwest Nazarene University player. She is averaging four steals per game.
But her offense is just as effective. Emerson is second on the team in scoring with 10 points per game on better than 54 percent shooting.
“We all bring some different and unique to the table,” King said. “We love playing with each other because we all compliment the other so well.”
The three captains have also made their fellow teammates better. Five other players are averaging at least eight points per game to turn the Mustangs into juggernauts.
Eagle is one of only two unbeaten girls basketball teams in the state and most of those games haven’t been all that close.
The Mustangs have beaten teams by an average of 22 points per game. Of the 19 games against 5A Southern Idaho Conference opponents, 15 have been won by double digits.
Eagle has defeated league opponents by nearly 21 points per game. It is 6-0 against teams in the final top-5 state media poll of the season with an average margin of victory at 15.5 points during those games.
Those results have thrust the Mustangs into the national spotlight. They are ranked No. 24 in the latest USA Today’s Super 25 poll.
“I mean it’s really nice that we are getting all of this recognition but just because we are ranked 24th in the nation we can’t diminish our intensity in practice or in games,” Murray said. “It’s definitely an incentive to keep working hard but it really doesn’t mean anything right now.”
That’s because of what transpired one year ago. Just like this season, the Mustangs were the prohibitive favorites.
They rolled into state the reigning 5A District III champions with a 23-1 mark. Eagle had beaten all of its opponents that season by more than 25 points per game.
But after getting through the first two rounds, the unexpected happened. The Mustangs were upset by Centennial 40-37 in the state final. They had previously beaten the Patriots three times by 13 points per game.
“It was definitely not what we were hoping for and not the way we ever imagined heading into that locker room afterwards,” Emerson said. “But it was a great learning experience. We took that with us this year. We are still learning from that loss and learning new stuff to get better every day.”
Eagle’s road to redemption starts against a very familiar foe in Boise. The Mustangs beat the Braves 75-48 in their lone meeting on the season on Jan. 9.
But since then Boise has won nine of its last 11 games. Third-ranked Bonneville or Mountain View, who has won 11 of the last 12 matchups against Eagle will await in the semis.
If they get through those first two rounds unscathed, a championship showdown against Post Falls could await the Mustangs. The Trojans have won their last 13 games and have been ranked No. 2 behind Eagle all season. They are also the only team ranked in the top-5 this season who haven’t played the Mustangs.
But then again Capital or a rematch of the 5A District III title game against Borah could also occur. And Eagle knows from personal experience just how hard it is to beat a team three or four times in a single season.
However, with this core group of seniors, Pickett still likes his chances.
“Talk to me when it’s all over,” Pickett laughed. “But I love this group and I know exactly what they are capable of.”