Before the Fruitland High boys basketball team played a single game this season, the Grizzlies were already being written off.
Despite winning the past two 3A state tournaments, many believed the Grizzlies' once-promising season was doomed with the loss of key returners Alec Dhaenens and Joe Martarano.
Dhaenens tore the ACL in his left knee during football, and Martarano chose to forgo basketball season to focus on baseball and football.
Without their two athletic big men - both of whom signed with the Boise State football program - the Grizzlies wouldn't have a chance.
Not so fast.
"Everyone was kind of saying, 'Oh poor Fruitland. They don't have Alec or Joe. What are they going to do this year?' " Fruitland senior point guard Lane LaCrone said. "We kind of used it as motivation because everyone thought that we were going to be nothing without them. But we stepped up a lot, and we knew what we had to do to get there."
"There" happens to be a state-best 11th consecutive state tournament appearance, which was earned by winning an 11th district championship in a row last week.
Fruitland (17-5) begins pursuit of its third straight state title against Timberlake (18-3) at 3 p.m. Thursday at Meridian High.
In keeping with the regular season, few consider the Grizzlies among the tournament favorites. Sugar-Salem (22-3) finished No. 1 in the final state media poll with six first-place votes. Shelley (19-4) was second, Filer (21-2) third, Timberlake fourth and Snake River fifth (17-5).
"Shelley, Filer, Snake and Sugar are getting a lot of the press, for good reason," Fruitland coach Mike Fitch said. "This is really probably one of the deepest, strongest state tournament fields I've seen in a long time, but I think our guys feel a little slighted.
"They feel like they are a good basketball team and they feel like they are playing very well right now. So, they look at it and go well, 'People have been discounting us all year, so maybe we'll just keep rolling with that.' "
The Grizzlies have been rolling with the punches all season.
Once Fitch learned he would be without Dhaenens and Martarano, the game plan had to change - fast.
"It was a pretty significant change, just going from probably the biggest team we've ever had to probably one of the smaller if not the smallest teams that we've ever had," Fitch said. "That was pretty drastic. We realized we were going to be much less post-oriented. We were going to be not nearly as dominant on the boards and it was going to change our approach defensively pretty extensively."
Much to the surprise of everyone around them, the Grizzlies' history of success stayed intact despite the changes.
Fruitland lost just one game this season to a 3A opponent (Parma). Its other losses were to 4A schools Columbia, Emmett, Middleton and Nampa.
The Grizzlies have won their past 10 games and feel confident another three wins isn't out of the question.
"We may not be very big, but we run the floor and do really well in transition," Fruitland junior guard Hagen Graves said. "We can shoot from outside and we still have a lot of guys that can drive. ... We can still get it done."
Rachel Roberts: 377-6422,Twitter: @IDS_VarsityX