The motto was so ubiquitous that Apple Valley coach Zach Goring admitted he was ready to hear something different. After the Eagles downed No. 1-ranked Champlin Park 64-61 in the Class 4A boys' basketball championship game Saturday, Goring can rest easy.
"I told my wife that I didn't want to go through another season with the same motto," Goring said. "That was our rallying cry all season. We said it when we broke huddles. We even had a "UB" hashtag on Twitter. Now, I know we're going to be able to find something new."
Adding to the Eagles' motivation was a 79-74 midseason loss to Champlin Park during a holiday tournament in St. Cloud. If the end to the 2014 season wasn't enough, that pushed them over the edge.
"The whole season, that's what motivated us," said sophomore forward Gary Trent Jr. "We knew what we could do."
But motivation was only part of the equation. The Eagles still needed to prove it on the court, which they did convincingly against Champlin Park's previously undefeated Rebels.
The Rebels made a living on their athleticism, slashing through the lane for baskets and hitting three-pointers when teams sat back fearing the drive. Apple Valley's size and grit proved to be just the antidote for that philosophy.
Champlin Park opened up a quick 14-7 lead. But Apple Valley's size — the Eagles started three players who were 6-5 or taller and three more of similar height off the bench — helped turn the momentum its way.
One of those bench players, reserve forward Steven Christiansen, provided the spark that killed Champlin Park's momentum with a six-point spurt that tied the score 19-19 with about seven minutes left in the first half.
"Our bench was our key," Goring said. "We don't lose anything when we go to the bench."
Apple Valley then switched to a zone defense to slow down Champlin Park's urge to run. At the same time, Rebels forward Theo John picked up his third foul, relegating him to the bench for the remainder of the half.
Apple Valley took advantage of John's absence. The Eagles finished the first half on a 10-2 run, punctuated by a lob-dunk from the Eagles' star underclassmen, freshman guard Tre Jones, to Trent. Apple Valley led 31-27 at halftime.
The battle inside between John and Apple Valley's 7-foot center Brock Bertram was one of the key pregame matchups. Bertram won that battle, his space-gobbling size keeping the lane free of traffic. Champlin Park started living behind the three-point arc in the second half and that's where the dream of an undefeated season died. The Rebels made only seven of 21 three-pointers after halftime — they were 10 of 29 for the game — and saw rally after potential rally falter in a high-arcing bounce off the rim.
Champlin Park's 2015 Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year, J.T. Gibson, was held to a season-low six points.
"We're not going to hang our heads," senior guard Jeremy Johnson said. "We ended up 31-1. That's the best season this school has ever had. We're going out right now to celebrate our season."
Trent led a balanced Apple Valley attack with 15 points. Jones, Bertram and Cameron Kirksey each had 12 points.