That's what the Florin Panthers girls basketball team endured in recent years, moving from a winless wreck three seasons ago to respectability to now a milestone moment Thursday night against one of the power programs in the Sac-Joaquin Section.
Seeded fourth in the Division II playoff field, Florin played with energy, precision and patience in taking down No. 5 Del Oro 58-46 in a second-round playoff game in south Sacramento.
Panthers players and coaches rave about how the team has come together. Despite some bickering, they are beloved to one another.
"Oh, we're sisters and we clash, but we're close and we've formed a bond," junior guard Deja Conger said proudly.
"Teamwork, working as a unit, it all came together in the fourth quarter."
Del Oro, with scores of playoff victories over the years and a Northern California finalist a year ago, was ready to pounce on the Panthers late, but Florin (24-5) would have none of it. A Conger three-pointer gave Florin a 47-41 lead with 2:40 to go, then her zip pass 40 seconds later for a Daijah Joe-Smith bucket made it 49-43.
From there, the Panthers coolly made 9 of 10 free throws to record the program's most significant victory since the Shannon Gasper-coached teams of 1996 and '97 that reached the D-I section finals.
Joe-Smith, a quick forward, had a terrific all-around game. She had 22 points, 13 rebounds and seven steals. Jordyn Bell powered inside for 13 points and 10 rebounds, and fellow forward Dalayna Sampton had eight and 10. Guard Kynnidi Ricardo had 10 points and six assists.
Brianna Ruiz had 12 points and eight rebounds for Del Oro (18-11).
Florin coach Larry Price stood as a proud papa. He endured the winless season and he promised better days were ahead. That time is now. There are no seniors in the main rotation, so the momentum is sure to carry into next season.
"It's a joy to coach this team, to be around them, to see them grow and come together like this," Price said.
Now the ultimate challenge looms in the semifinals Tuesday at Pacific: National power St. Mary's of Stockton, winners of 12 section titles and seven state titles.
The Rams blitzed Florin 77-32 in the second round last season. This time, Price, Conger and the crew plan to convince the school band that stood loud, proud and 30 strong against Del Oro to head to Pacific and park close to the St. Mary's bench.
"We're bringing the band!" Price promised.
Del Oro coach Mike Takayama said his program will regroup and return with the bulk of the roster. The junior varsity team fared well and the freshman team went 22-0.
"We had it all set up to make a run in the fourth, but Florin was more poised than we were," Takayama said. "What a fantastic year for them, and Price has done a great job."