The 2020-21 season for the Prairie girls’ basketball team came to an end with a 46-37 loss to Grace in the Idaho Class 1A Division I state championship game.

For a period of time during the season and in the lead-up to the postseason, coach Lori Mader had been giving serious thought to hanging up her whistle. But there were reasons bigger than the game for that.

One of her closest allies, off the court, was dealing with medical issues. The two of them run an insurance agency in Cottonwood and it was becoming overwhelming for Mader to do the day-to-day tasks of being a coach as well as her normal job.

So Mader decided to step away from the basketball job and focus on trying to keep the insurance agency afloat as her friend and co-worker, Marina Geis, battled cancer.

“It was pretty evident I had to hand over the job before the summer so the team could focus on summer workouts,” said Mader, who had just completed her 11th season as Prairie’s coach. “I had to focus on her health and the business because I had to make a paycheck and be there for Marina and her family.”

But Geis kept chirping in Mader’s ear. And as she got better, the voice got louder. She kept telling Mader to go back to coaching, go back to the kids she enjoying teaching and go back to what she loved doing the most.

Of course, Mader was torn. She felt like she had a responsbility to her friend and to her work.

When Geis got somewhat better and she eventually began chemotherapy, the pull of being on the basketball court became too much. And with Geis’ encouragement, Mader re-applied for her old position in August and was re-hired.

“She was encouraging me to go back and coach again,” said Mader, who has led her Pirate teams to eight state championship games in her time. “She’s been a real godsend to me,” Mader said. “We’ve worked together for 20-plus years and it’s been so nice to have her in my corner. So, by the end of the (August), I decided to come back.”

Geis originally was diagnosed with colon cancer in late January. She would receive a clean bill of health a couple of months later, but tragedy would strike again in June when she found out the cancer moved to her liver.

As the months started to pass, Geis’ cancer treatment got better according to Mader. She started chemotherapy in the middle of August, a couple of weeks before Mader had to reapply for the coaching position at Prairie.

“People think it’s all about wins and losses, but to be honest I’ve coached for 11 years and been to championship games,” Mader said. “I didn’t come back because I have something to prove. My record shows I have good kids. I came back to teach kids the value of life.”

She hopes those life lessons will transfer to the court this season. The Pirates, who finished 22-4 overall and placed second in the Whitepine League Division I standings with a 12-2 mark, will have stout leadership this year with eight upperclassmen returning.

Prairie has played once so far this season, a 58-31 victory Nov. 18 at home against Troy.

A senior that stands out to Mader is guard Delanie Lockett.

“She’s very calm and collected on the floor,” she said. “She’s played in the big moments before. She does all the little things right and stays composed. She’s not flashy, she’s a well-mannered kid who plays her heart out.”

Prairie also returns Kristin Wemhoff, a junior guard who averaged 14 points per game a year ago.

“She’s played in two state title games and boy is that kid fast and hard to slow down,” Mader said. “She’s a fighter and great at what she does. You can feel and sense her energy on the floor. She’s so positive and upbeat.”

Prairie’s leading rebounder from a year ago, junior Tara Schlader, will be back in the post for the Pirates this season. The biggest knock on Schlader, according to Mader, is harnessing her energy.

“She had three fouls against Troy in our opener in the first three minutes,” she said. “She has a ton of energy, she just has to learn how to maintain it.”

With two state titles in the past decade, a veteran group coming back this season and a coach who is as giving on the court as she has proven this offseason off of it, Prairie’s group shows that you can overcome the odds when they are stacked against you.

“They have so much desire and determination to be great,” Mader said. “The younger kids see that and know about the winning tradition and the older kids foster that in with them.”

Pixley may be contacted at tpixley@lmtribune.com, (208) 848-2268 or on Twitter @TreebTalks.