Coach Melissa Hearlihy was locked in a summer-long battle to regain her job, wondering if she would ever rejoin the team she loved.
Senior guard Kelli Kobayashi was locked in a week-long bout with self doubt, wondering if she would be remembered as the best player in a decade to graduate from Alemany High without a girls' basketball championship.
But championship-game losses and coaching dismissals seemed like distant memories Saturday when Kobayashi and Hearlihy locked in an emotional embrace after Alemany defeated La Puente, 62-39, in the Southern Section Division III-AA final at the Pyramid in Long Beach.
"I'm just so happy," said Hearlihy, who was fired by Alemany and the Los Angeles Archdiocese last summer before being reinstated. "It's been an uphill battle since the beginning of last summer and the kids came through every step of the way.'
Kobayashi, a four-year starter who played on losing teams in two previous section finals, walked out of the Pyramid carrying the championship plaque that had eluded her throughout her career.
"I hope to take it home," said Kobayashi, who had 17 points, seven assists and seven rebounds. "I just want to stare at it."
The team that rallied behind its embattled coach, then overcame a one-game deficit to tie Harvard-Westlake for the Mission League championship, needed no comeback against second-seeded La Puente.
The top-seeded Indians sprinted to a 7-0 lead and never trailed.
Kobayashi, a two-time All-Southern Section choice and Alemany's career record holder for three-pointers and assists, made three three-point baskets.
"This is for her," said center Karina Siam, who had 14 points and seven rebounds.
Sophomore guard Kate Beckler, who averaged 23 points in the playoffs, scored 16 points.
All-Southern Section guard Erika Olivas scored 21 points and Perla Sanchez had 13 points and 10 rebounds for La Puente.
"Man for man, they were the better team," said Warrior Coach Dave Bemis, whose team had won 15 consecutive games. "It was a five-on-two game."
La Puente (24-2), making its first appearance in a final, overcame early jitters and trailed, 25-20, at halftime.
"It's not like we just handed them the championship," Olivas said.
The title was the third for Alemany (24-6), which was making its sixth championship-game appearance in seven seasons and seventh overall.
The Indians won championships in 1992 and 1994, the season before Kobayashi enrolled.
"The thought of being here three times and not being able to put my name on a banner was definitely on my mind," Kobayashi said.
The Pyramid had become a chamber of horrors for the senior guard, whose team lost, 53-45, to Woodbridge in the Division II-AA final as a freshman and to Muir, 45-41, in the III-AA final as a junior.
"I told everybody that I hate this place," she said.
It's all a matter of timing and perspective.
Alemany's Siam, a freshman with a 1-0 record at the Pyramid, said she rather likes the place.
"It's pretty good to be a freshman champion," she said. "Hopefully, I can go for four in a row."