Brent Hintz knew there was only one appropriate way to send off his senior class.
With roughly five minutes remaining in the third-place game of the Class A Girls Basketball State Tournament against Bismarck Legacy, the West Fargo Sheyenne coach made a point to get seniors Shelby Weber, Rachel Blasczyk, Yasmina Dokara, Maggie Manson and Olivia Dobrinz on the floor together one last time.
With less than a minute to play in what became a 53-41 loss, Hintz called the group, eighth graders during the Mustangs' inaugural season in 2014-15, to the bench, where they exchanged hugs and shared tearful goodbyes at the end of what had been a whirlwind career.
The emotional displays didn't end with that final trip to the bench.
"They're kind of the history of Sheyenne girls basketball," a tearful Hintz said of his seniors after the game. "We have such a short history and they're the kids (people) think of when they think of our program. And they've been the perfect group of kids to take the torch."
Guard Maggie Manson has been with the varsity program since the beginning, starting as an eighth grader during that gruelling first season, when the Mustangs went 0-22.
In the ensuing years, her classmates joined her and helped take the program on an upward ascent.
After making gradual improvements-eight wins in 15-16, 11 in 16-17-Sheyenne reached new heights over the past two seasons, both of which ended with 18 wins and trips to the state tournament.
Having been there from the start, Manson, a Ms. Basketball finalist and future North Dakota Fighting Hawk, had a difficult time saying goodbye.
"We started this together," said Manson, answering questions with her arms wrapped around crying teammate Dobrinz. "The people that came before us started the hard parts and we just picked up where they left off and started to make Sheyenne known for what it is."
While this state tournament ended in difficult fashion-the Mustangs lost to Devils Lake and Legacy by a combined total of 45 points-it began with a moment the seniors considered the highlight of their careers.
Down by as many as 18 in the first half, the Mustangs came storming back against a Mandan team that had beaten them 73-50 during the regular season. Led by Dokara and Manson, who scored 22 and 17 points respectively, Sheyenne outscored the Braves 50-25 in the second half en route to a 75-61 win that sent them to the state semifinals for the first time.
Mandan has been a thorn in the side of Sheyenne players going back to their travel ball days, and beating them on the big stage of the state tournament produced a hyperbolic reaction by one Mustang.
"One of our big goals was to beat Mandan because it's never been done before," Blasczyk said. "And once we did it, it was like our whole life has been accomplished."
After drawing laughs from her teammates, Blasczyk clarified her statement, narrowing it down to the best accomplishment of her "basketball life."
And while her initial comment could be viewed as an exaggeration, it seemed oddly fitting in the company of her now former teammates.
Though their dynamic is about to change, Mustang seniors aren't expecting their bond to break any time soon. Having spent several years and incalculable hours playing together, players seemed eager to spend as much time in each other's company before life takes them in different directions.
"We all kind of grew up together," Dobrinz said. "It was a big moment when we walked off together because we're all kind of going our separate ways. But we still have that connection.
"We can call this program our connection."