When Baldwin High's girls basketball team checked out of its hotel rooms last March in Salina, the players likely told the hotel clerk to save a few rooms for the second week of March in 1997.
To nobody's surprise, the Bulldogs are back in the Class 4A state tournament at Salina's Bicentennial Center.
Baldwin, the defending state champion, is the tournament's No. 2 seed at 22-1 and will open with Andale (17-6) at 3 p.m. Thursday.
"We were wanting to get back," said Baldwin coach Ted Zuzzio, who's guided Baldwin to a state appearance for the ninth time in 20 years. "Nothing's a given. We had hoped to defend our title."
Four starters from last year's championship team -- Ann Martin, Mary Denning, Audrey Millstein and Trina Bierman back -- are back. Martin, Denning and Millstein are four-year starters and Bierman is a three-year starter.
The seniors have compiled a 72-21 record in four years, including a 62-10 mark the past three seasons.
"Each year we get a little smarter and a lot better," Zuzzio said. "The enjoyment we get as coaches is to see the hard work they give in practice and the discipline they show. They make a lot of nice decisions. There's been a special chemistry with this group."
Baldwin has won 11 games in a row and 31 of its past 32. The lone loss this season was 46-39 setback to Santa Fe Trail in the semifinals of the Top Gun tournament at Wellsville.
Other than the loss to Santa Fe Trail, the Bulldogs have dominated. Baldwin averages 59.1 points a game while surrendering just 32. In their three sub-state contests, the Bulldogs outscored Bonner Springs, Gardner-Edgerton and Basehor-Linwood by a combined 157-70.
Late in February, Baldwin beat Osawatomie and Topeka Hayden back to back on the road. Osawatomie and Hayden also advanced to state. In fact, if Baldwin wins on Thursday it will play the Osawatomie-Hayden winner at 3 p.m. on Friday.
Baldwin is one of six teams returning from last year's state field. Hayden, Labette County, Andale, Larned and Sabetha are the others.
Last year, Baldwin beat Larned in the semis and Sabetha in the final to cap a 22-4 season.
Another Baldwin-Sabetha rematch is possible. Sabetha is the top seed at 23-0.
What does Zuzzio know about his first-round opponent, Andale?
"They've got a bunch of sisters and cousins, two sophomore twins," Zuzzio noted.
Zuzzio was referring to the Ecks. Last year, six Ecks were listed on the roster and four of them were underclassmen. Maggie and Missi are the twins.
Unlike last year, Zuzzio will have junior guard Johnelle Nuspl available. She didn't play at state while recovering from hepatitis.
"This is a special moment for her," Zuzzio said. "She's not going to be at full strength. She's a quality point guard. It's an asset to have her back."
Last year, Baldwin players didn't forget Nuspl as they wore Band-Aids with Nuspl's No. 23 on the back of their shoes.
Zuzzio wrapped the state championship medal around Nuspl's neck during last year's postgame ceremonies.