Second-year Cienega coach Paul Reed said the Bobcats are “looking forward to the challenge” of playing the No. 1 seed.

Ralph Freso / for arizona daily star

It took nine seasons and two schools before Cienega girls basketball coach Paul Reed finally led his team to the championship game.

Now all that stands in the way of both his and the school’s first-ever state title is No. 1 Chandler Seton Catholic — just the team he expected to meet.

“If you want to be the best in the state, you have to play the best,” said Reed, in his second season at Cienega after coaching Tucson High. “We figured somewhere down the road we’d probably see Seton Catholic.”

No. 3 Cienega tips off against the perennial powerhouse in the Division II state championship at 9 a.m. today at Arena in Glendale, beginning the Bobcats’ final step in what Reed described as a simply “fantastic” season.

With a nearly flawless, 26-1 record and a clean bill of health throughout, the Bobcats have looked almost unbeatable at times, with a 27.8-point average margin of victory.

The path to the finals wasn’t easy, though, as Cienega had to dispatch 2013 state champion Scottsdale Saguaro in the semifinals and now faces a team that won three titles in a row before last season.

But the newcomers are not intimidated.

The Bobcats have eyed the state title since Day 1, but the desire grew from wishful thinking to expected greatness as the season progressed, Reed said.

“The girls were able to stay hungry and humble and always wanting to get better,” Reed said.

“Humble” and “unselfish” have been key words in Vail this season, as Cienega started the year with three different leading scorers from the season before, thanks to the transfers of junior forward Treyanna Clay (Catalina Foothills) and senior guard Denesia Smith (Sierra Vista Buena).

The chemistry never suffered from big egos, though, and Reed said at times the team has been almost too unselfish. On any given night, a different player led the box score in points or rebounds.

Against the top-seeded Sentinels (31-3), a Cienega player may need to take over to topple Seton Catholic, whether it be Clay, Smith or senior Gabby Banales. But even with the added intensity of the game, the pro arena and the weight of representing Southern Arizona, Reed said his team is prepared.

“I think it’s something that my girls are willing to take on,” Reed said. “They’re looking forward to the challenge.”