In huddles this season, the Curtis Baptist girls basketball team would say, "Above all else, honor."
That concept has always been a cornerstone of coach Maria Swanson's teachings. Though she believes in the importance of integrity and honor more than wins and losses, the victories keep flowing in every year.
In Swanson's third year as coach, the Lady Crusaders went 26-3 and reached the second round of the GISA Class AA state playoffs.
Because of her efforts, Swanson earned the honor of The Augusta Chronicl e's independent girls basketball coach of the year.
Not only has Curtis Baptist won at least 20 games in three consecutive seasons, but the win total has increased by three each year.
Before taking her current role, which the coach said was the first time she was head coach at the high-school level, Swanson was a middle school coach for 16 years. When she spoke with the school's headmaster, Bill Pevey, about the job, she remembers him telling her that it's about character and integrity, not necessarily about the outcome of the games.
"I learned that it's not all basketball -- it's about building relationships," Swanson said. "And it's not about winning, it's about character."
Swanson, who played at Curtis Baptist in the 1980s, got the opportunity to help restart the winning tradition at a school which won a state championship in 1996. Swanson said it means "all the world" for her to coach at her alma mater.
She said she inherited a good group of girls to allow her have quick success, and she used all the talent available by implementing a fast-break offense. The Lady Crusaders raced out to a 13-0 start this season and won 19 games by double digits, including 11 in a row.
The squad almost duplicated the previous season's state tournament performance, when the Lady Crusaders advanced to the semifinals.
This time, however, Curtis Baptist fell behind by 19 points before rallying to tie. But the Lady Crusaders eventually lost, 60-59, to Christian Heritage.
It was a tough defeat, but Swanson said the team actually learned more from the three losses than all those victories, particularly with how to respond to a situation.
The players took the loss well, thus fulfilling the idea of having character and integrity no matter the result.
"She has been everything," shooting guard Telia Hart said. "She always knew we could do it. I love her to death."