CRESTVIEW — The season was a thing of beauty.


Crestview’s varsity girls basketball team had its back against the ropes before the 2019-20 season ever tipped off.


Its top-four scorers were gone, some to graduation and others to transfer, including Jill Harris, the Daily News Co-Player of the Year headed to Mercer University in Macon, Georgia. What’s more, the rising upperclassmen set to inherit a squad coming off its first district title since 2015 had rarely been asked to shoulder much of the offensive workload; the trio of Melena Stevenson, Halee Duncan and Madison Sosebee had averaged just 8.7 points per game at season’s end.


Fourth-year coach Steve Williams, collecting his second straight Daily News Large Schools Girls Basketball Coach of the Year award, had his work cut out for him, yet the Bulldogs exceeded all expectations.


William’s crew finished 19-8, battling through its new six-team district against the likes of Pace and rival Niceville to earn yet another playoff bid and its first playoff victory since a 54-46 decision against Leon in the opening round of the 2015 postseason.


Facing off against the same Patriots team that had swept them in each of their three previous matchups, including a 50-43 victory in the District 1-6A title game, the Bulldogs found themselves down 26-23 at the half in the Region 1-6A quarterfinals only to rally for a knock-down, drag-out 48-47 win.


Freshman point guard Katiya Casey led the way with a game-high 21 points and four rebounds, including four 3-pointers, while freshman forward Elesi Simmons posted a 13-point, 20-rebound double-double with five steals. Ten of Simmons’ boards came on the offensive glass.


Both were key to Crestview’s success throughout the year. Simmons averaged 12.3 points and 9.4 rebounds per night on 56% shooting, while Casey averaged 11.2 points with three rebounds, 2.3 assists and 2.4 steals.


“Statistically, Elesi had a better year, but being a freshman point guard, Katiya did some really good things,” Williams said. “Her assist to turnover ratio was really good considering she had the ball in her hands as much as she did as a freshman trying to learn the offense as we went.


“And what’s amazing to me with (Elesi) is that she had as many offensive rebounds as she had defensive rebounds. She’s so athletic and she’s learning how to play, especially in the post and getting her back to the basket and things of that nature. She’s just scratching the surface of what she’s gonna become.”


High praise indeed, but Williams tipped his cap to his upperclassmen, too. They were the backbone of the Bulldogs’ success.


Battling through various injuries, Duncan, Stevenson and a newcomer Sarai Bonilla contributed 17.9 points and 12.5 rebounds combined per night.


“Those girls went through all the things that we went through when we weren’t very good, and I think their leadership really came about and helped those young girls really grow,” Williams said.


And given Crestview’s JV squad has won more than 30 games with fewer than 10 losses in the past two years, the Bulldogs growth should only continue.


“It makes it fun,” Williams said. “I’m proud of (our coaching staff) and the work they do, and I’m so proud of our kids and the fact that it’s not every day they have their best, but they give their best that day.”