Finishing a season as undefeated champions isn’t easy. Just ask the 2007 New England Patriots. Or the 2009 Indianapolis Colts, 2010 Pittsburgh Steelers, 2015 Carolina Panthers, 2018 Los Angels Rams and the 2019 San Francisco 49ers.

But that’s football. Now let’s try basketball. On the women’s side, only four programs have ever gone an entire season undefeated: Texas (1986), UConn (1995, 2002, 2010, 2014, 2016), Tennessee (1998) and Baylor (2012).

The 2007 Benton High School girls basketball teams knows what its like to finish a season without a blemish. The Lady Cardinals steamrolled their way to a 30-0 mark and the Class 4 state championship, using their “Southside Mentality” to out-tough many, if not all, of their opponents. Behind head coach Brett Goodwin Benton High School made history that year, and its why the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame proudly inducted the Lady Cardinals with the Class of 2023.

Benton was more than ready for the state tournament after a challenging regular season schedule. The Lady Cardinals won the Jefferson City Tournament with a 44-37 victory against Liberty, which went on to win the Class 5 state championship. Benton also won the Lindwood-Basehor (Kan.) Tournament, beating Holton 53-27 weeks before Holton won the Kansas Class 4 state title.

Toughness – Benton calls it a Southside Mentality – carried the Lady Cardinals throughout the season.

“We were probably some of the toughest girls you’ve ever been around,” said Alicia Bell, who scored 24 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in the championship game win against Farmington. “Everyone was mentally invested and mentally tough. Basketball season is long and drawn out and we always stayed together.”

Her teammates echoed Bell’s sentiments.

“What made us special was our grit and tenacity, our mindset,” said Melissa McIntosh Ellis. “We all had the mindset that we wanted to achieve the highest goal.”

“We had the same exact mentality – hard-nosed, get after it,” said Jenni Musser O’Meara. “We didn’t accept losing.”

And they didn’t have to, as the Lady Cardinals ran the table, becoming the first undefeated state champions in St. Joseph history.

“The reason they were so special was because they just had the will and mentality to be great and do whatever it takes to achieve that,” Goodwin said.

Goodwin was the driving force behind the team’s success.

“Coach didn’t accept anything less than what he believed was your best,” Musser O’Meara said. “He was going to make sure he got that from you one way or another. It ended up blooming into this amazing experience.”

Bell shared similar thoughts.

“Coach was the heartbeat,” she said. “Teams adopt their coach’s mentality. Luckily, we already had that mentality so when you have coach that feeds that and encourages that – especially for young women to be pushed and be allowed to be competitors – he wasn’t going to tell us to simmer down. He probably poured gasoline on that fire to be honest.”

But it was more than just Goodwin pushing them to be their best. Goodwin’s belief in his players had a lasting impact.

“We had the drive to always want more and more,” McIntosh Ellis said. “And that came from practice. The level was set for us. Other coaches would come by and say what we were doing was too much. ‘Why would you put HS girls through all that?’. But we saw it as if we were being believed in. Someone saw in us more than we saw in ourselves. Looking back at that, we’ll all be forever grateful for it because it’s translated into us being successful women.”

More than just the players on the roster, the 2007 Benton High School Lady Cardinals had a profound impact on the community.

“Winning that championship for Benton High School and the Southside of St. Joseph was special,” Goodwin said. “The community really embraced the championship with us.”

Other team members were seniors Claire Brown, Delissa Hall, Charnelle Starling, Blair Brown, junior Jenni Musser and sophomores Chelsie Strong, Nicole Wilkerson, Meghan Curtis and Holly Switzer, and freshmen Kerstyn Bolton, Shelbee Cox, Hannah Moore and Karli Sample. Benton’s assistant coach was Adam Willard, and Bryce Mereness was the student manager. Mike Ziesel was the athletic director.