Sophomore Alisa Fallon and her Trinity girls basketball teammates spent their day off from playing in Arizona Dec. 20 hiking Camelback Mountain in Phoenix.

The mile-plus trail with steep grades reaches the peak at 1,280 feet for a round trip of about three hours. Only sophomore Alex Fanning’s knee injury prevented her from completing the trail.

“We were halfway up the mountain and (sophomore Dee Brown was) like, ‘I’d rather play a game than do this,’ ” Fallon said. “It was a different type of fatigue than at practice. People wanted to give up but it was just really cool.”

The Blazers showed just as much fortitude on the court.

Invited to their first Nike Tournament of Champions, they reached the championship game of their 16-team bracket before losing 55-51 Dec. 22 to ThunderRidge from Highlands Ranch, Colo.

“I think we surprised everyone. We were playing some pretty highly skilled and nationally-ranked teams and we were coming in kind of under the radar,” Fallon said. “After we started winning more and more and the championship came closer and closer, everyone just got more and more excited.”

The Blazers (11-4) defeated St. Anthony (Long Beach, Calif.) 65-37 Dec. 18,  Sacramento (Calif.) 56-44 Dec. 19 and Bishop McNamara (Forestville, Md.) 57-46 in the Dec. 21 semifinals.

Senior Annie McKenna averaged 18 points, eight assists and two steals. Other top performers included senior Kaitlyn Aylward (11 points, 7 rebounds), sophomore Lauren Lee (8 points, 3 steals), Fallon (6 points, 8 rebounds), Fanning (3 blocks, 5 rebounds) and Brown (7 points).

“I think we played better than most expected. We got ourselves a lot of really, positive national exposure,” Trinity coach Mike Valente said.

“I think it’s a great springboard for us. Our goal is to win state so playing this tough competition gives us a great opportunity to go through the second half of the season.”

Twelve players and members of nine families made the trip. This summer, Trinity participated in the Under Armour Best of Maryland Tournament July 26-28.

“We knew (then) that later in the year we would be going to Arizona,” Fanning said. “I think we were all super excited to be there and show off how good we were and just surprise everybody. It was so much fun. I think we bonded more than we ever have before. I think we just drew closer and closer the whole trip.”

The Nike tournament was established in 1997. Valente said Trinity was invited based upon its performance the past two seasons and having top returning underclassmen. The Blazers were placed in the second-best of six brackets.

“I think we showed better and I think it’s going to give us a return invitation,” Valente said. “I was very proud of them. Just to get to that championship game is a big deal.”

And the Blazers almost won.

Trailing 41-30 after three quarters, they closed to within one with about 40 seconds left but missed a shot to take the lead. They were called for a foul on a 50-50 rebound and the Grizzlies (9-2) held on by hitting free throws.

McKenna (17 points, 6 assists), Aylward (11 points, 5 rebounds) and Lee (9 points, 3 steals) led Trinity.

ThunderRidge is the defending Colorado Class 5A state runner-up and has four returning senior starters, led by Wyoming recruit Taylor Rusk.

“We should have come out in the beginning with the fire that we did going into the second half. I think we would have got them. But overall everyone was just excited and proud at how far we’ve come,” Fallon said.