The Swiftettes roll to another Texas state title

With a good chunk of their tiny Panhandle town watching, the Nazareth Swiftettes rolled into Austin last weekend and rolled out with their 18th Texas state championship -- extending their run as the most successful public school girl's basketball dynasty in the nation.

On the way back home in their famous yellow bus, head coach Amy Huseman already was looking past the horizon. In Nazareth, they don't rest on their laurels.

"Well," she said, "we've already been discussing what we need to do next year. We have to keep going."

Nazareth, a small, mostly Catholic settlement halfway between Amarillo and Lubbock, was the subject of an ESPN.com E-Ticket, which profiled the history of their basketball program and town, and the citizens' struggle to scratch out a future in a hard land. They are known for a few things: their toughness, their ingenuity, the most amazing cinnamon rolls you ever put in your mouth and, of course, the Swiftettes. For the past three decades, they've been dominant.

This year, though, they will enjoy it a little more. This year, they showed why it is foolish to ever count out Naz in anything. As the playoffs were beginning, the team lost star guard and team leader Holly Kleman, a third-generation Swiftette, to a torn ACL, ending her season and her high school athletic career.

The news devastated the town and her family, especially Holly and her mother, Rosie, who knew what the game meant to her daughter. She herself won a state title her senior year. In Nazareth, little girls dream of leading their team to a state title from the time they can tie their own shoes and, to have that dream taken so close to fruition, well, that's the kind of thing that can stay with you forever.

Without Holly, the rest of the team filled in the gaps. In most of the games, including the state title, the hub of the offense was a senior gunslinger guard named Heidi Ramaekers. Her parents are huge Naz fans, sitting in the stands, cheering her on. They are, like the other parents who make those long drives, the soul of the Swiftette program.

On Friday night, in the semifinal, Ramaekers hit a state-tournament record seven threes. On Saturday night, in the final, she hit four more, finishing with 16 points.

"She was popping 'em like she was meant to do it," Huseman said.

The team jumped out to a gigantic early lead and never looked back, with Ramaekers and senior leader Lacey Acker taking them home to a 61-31 blowout of Garden City. It's the 18th title in 22 trips to the state Final Four for Nazareth, and it proved that the one thing stronger than all the hardships in the Panhandle is hope.

Wright Thompson is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. He can be reached at wrightespn@gmail.com.