Monday, March 26, 2012

Orem basketball: 2011-12 season recap

In mid-March, I interviewed Orem (Utah) boys basketball coach Golden Holt, and he reflected on his team's 4A state championship run. It was Orem's first boys basketball title in school history. This article will appear in the team yearbook, which promises to also be something special.

Tigers end 56-year wait

Talented squad makes history
as coach’s prediction comes true

By Bruce Smith

What a difference a year can make.

In March, 2011, coach Golden Holt stood at the podium at the Orem High School boys basketball team banquet. The Tigers had finished the season with a 7-15 record. Holt looked at the parents in the audience, and then his team, and he saw their potential.

“I said we were going to win the state championship next year and anything less would be a disappointment,” Holt said.

The buildup to that accomplishment was something every coach, player and fan will remember.

The rejuvenated Tigers finished with a 24-1 mark, went undefeated in Region 8 and captured the school’s first-ever boys basketball championship in its 56-year history. The crowning achievement came on Saturday, March 3, when they defeated Olympus 58-50 in the 4A finals at the Maverik Center in West Valley City.

“March 3rd was our rally cry. We said all year that we wanted to be playing on that date,” Holt said. “We were the most talented team in the state. We had to focus on our heart and our character. If we played to the best of our ability, I knew we would win every game.”

Afterward, the accolades kept coming. Zach Hunsaker was named the Region 8 Most Valuable Player, and Josh Pollard and Dalton Nixon were on the first team. Hunsaker later received the same award on the all-state team. Nixon was on the second team and Jordan Darger third team.

Nixon was also tabbed the state tournament’s best player.

When Orem accepted the trophy, a huge crowd of students cheered loudly. For the team, it wasn’t necessarily a surprise. Sure, Holt had made a bold statement a year prior, but the Tigers spent every day after that planning to win.

The buildup began during the previous summer, when the Tigers played 60 AAU and other tournament-type games in Utah and various other western states and won almost all of them.

Then, early in the season, Orem played host to the first annual Great Western Shootout. Three of Utah’s best basketball programs (Lone Peak, West Jordan and Davis) were invited, as well as four of the best teams from surrounding states.

“I’m a confidence coach,” Holt said. “We knew we were inexperienced in tournament play, so we had to prepare like we were going to be there (at state).”

Not only did the tourney gain huge local and even some national attention, the Tigers accomplished a lot. They downed Highland (Pocatello), shocked Lone Peak, which went on to win the 5A state title, before losing to West Jordan in the final. That 77-71 defeat ended up being Orem’s only loss of the year.

“I didn’t want to say it at the time, but the loss did us some good,” Holt said. “It rejuvenated the kids, and got the monkey off our back. The kids knew their potential, and what they had to do to win.

On Dec. 28, Orem printed T-shirts, claiming itself to be 4A state champions, and showed them to the players but they had to wait before they could be worn. Then, Holt did something else he’ll always remember.

“We chartered a bus and took the team to Weber State,” he said. “We had lunch up there and took a tour of the arena. I wanted the kids to experience all that.”

The only problem was that, while Weber’s Dee Events Center had been the site of the previous two state tournaments, it wasn’t this year.

The players and coaches had a good laugh over it, and continued their business.

They beat rivals Provo and Mountain View twice, and erased a 14-point halftime deficit at Timpview and went into the tourney ranked No. 1.

In the title game, they led all the way but saw the margin dwindle to just four in the final minutes. Holt called timeout, but let Darger, the team’s only senior, do the talking.

"Josh has been through a lot here and let these guys know that they couldn't let up," Holt said. "He's been a big leader for us all year long and he gave them a bit of a pep talk there and they responded."

Bingham basketball: Jilian Powell profile

In mid-March, I interviewed Bingham (Utah) girls basketball player Jilian Powell. She told me her best memories of the season and I wrote this article for this year's Bingham basketball yearbook.


She was known for her scoring,
but she appreciated the other things

By Bruce Smith

Jilian Powell is an athlete. She has played soccer, softball and basketball since she was a child. She gave up the other sports to play on coach Rand Rasmussen’s Bingham squad.

The Miners were led by senior Summer Yack this season. Next year, Powell will definitely be a player to watch.

“Without her, we’d be in trouble,” said Rasmussen. “She has all parts of the game.”

Powell averaged 8.2 points per game this year, topped the team in steals and, surprisingly, was credited with 16 blocked shots. She was named second team all-region and honorable mention all-state.

“In the game against Cyprus, she had a key steal and then hit back-to-back threes,” Rasmussen recalled. “She also ended up guarding their point guard. She’s versatile that way.”

For her efforts that night, the Deseret News named her its player of the week.

Powell was also a big help off the court. She was a team captain, of course, and part of the group that included Yack, Madison Aulai-Roe and Ashton Henderson that tried to improve camaraderie and team chemistry.

“I don’t think much about the games (anymore),” she said after the season concluded. “It’s about all the fun we had off the court.”

When you make the Bingham girls basketball team, it’s about more than just basketball. Sure, there are the games and dealing with Rasmussen. But there are the weekly team dinners, sleepovers and hanging out with teammates for at least three consecutive months that create lifelong friendships.

“Sleepovers on Friday nights became a tradition because we had practices early on Saturday mornings,” Powell said. “We would go to somebody’s house that had a big room. Then we would go to practice together.”

Practice helped the 18-member Bingham squad find their roles. In Powell’s case, she was asked to be a scorer, especially after Yack was injured late in the season. Powell always enjoyed shooting from the perimeter, but lacked consistency. She said Rasmussen asked her to shoot more, especially since opponents were focusing their defense on Yack.

“I had my best game against Layton,” Powell said. “At halftime, he was mad at me for not shooting, so I started.

In that game, Powell had a career-high 23 points. She only had seven at half, but came out in the third quarter and immediately nailed a couple of treys. Bingham took a nine-point lead, but eventually lost, 61-59.

Powell also recalled playing Pleasant Grove as one of her best performances. She had 12 points, including a couple of threes, in the 52-45 win there and then an 11-point effort in a 54-34 decision at Bingham.

“Beating Pleasant Grove was a big accomplishment,” she said. “We were on a losing streak and, at the time, didn’t know if we would make state.”

Of course, they did. Powell had 15 points in the tourney opener against Taylorsville. She said that was a game she’ll always remember.

“It was great,” she said. “It had been a long time since we had beaten a team like that.”

Powell thinks next year will hold bigger and better things for her and the Bingham basketball team. She planned to work hard during the summer and make herself an even better scorer next year.

A state championship might also help her recall her on-court exploits more.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Bingham basketball: Ashton Henderson profile

In mid-March, I interviewed Ashton Henderson, a member of the Bingham (Utah) girls basketball team. She was a very good interview. In some ways, she reminded me of myself. She grew up a Bingham fan, and was thrilled to eventually play basketball there. Here's the article that will appear in this year's Bingham basketball yearbook.


By Bruce Smith

Ashton Henderson grew up a Bingham basketball fan. For a long time, it was her goal to play for coach Rand Rasmussen and the Miners. When she put on the uniform – white or dark – it was a dream.

This year, she became a team captain and she welcomed the responsibility that came with it. She had “game,” and she wanted to show it.

“When you’re little, you idolize the girls,” she said. “Rand was always scary, but you looked up to him. I always looked forward to wearing the warm-ups and playing the part.”

Henderson played sparingly on varsity as a freshman, but was frequently on the court last year. This season, she ended up averaging 6.1 points per game and 2.6 rebounds. Like most Bingham guards, she was all over the court.

Henderson’s high game was a 14-point effort in Bingham’s 68-52 win over Alta, one of its most-impressive victories of the season. It was a great night for her and the team. Surprisingly, it didn’t rank among her best memories of the season.

“My best memories are sleepovers and team dinners,” she said.

It was a long season and, as a captain, there were many issues that had to be dealt with off the court. Then, just when the Miners seemed to have those issues solved, Summer Yack was injured and lost for the season.

Henderson said the team had made a lot of progress prior to that event, especially with camaraderie and team chemistry. When Yack was injured, the team’s momentum immediately stopped and it was the coach – and the captain’s – jobs to try to revive it.

“I was a defensive player, but after Summer got hurt coach told me that I had to score more,” Henderson said. “Summer led us, but we had to step up and help out more. We were all captains but we looked up to her.”

Yack was injured in Bingham’s 54-39 loss at American Fork. The team had a week off until its next game, but Henderson was she couldn’t wait to deal with the situation. AF dominated the game after Yack went to the bench and, at the time, all the players were concerned the Miners wouldn’t even make the postseason.

“At American Fork, we had a long talk in the locker room,” Henderson recalled. “We knew we were at a turning point and had to keep fighting.”

Henderson was one of the biggest fighters. In Bingham’s next game – at home against nemesis Pleasant Grove – she nearly matched her season high. She had 12 points, Jilian Powell 11 and Ana Kaili 10 in a 54-34 victory.

“We had to give it all we had,” she said. “They had knocked us out (of the 5A state tournament) three straight years. We weren’t going to let it happen again.”

A week later, she scored 11 points at Riverton. Her scoring dropped off after that, but others caught on. Bingham did make the tourney and others caught on. Shelby Richards, for example, had 23 in Bingham’s tournament win over Taylorsville.

For Henderson, the story of her junior year was “ask her to do something, and she would do it.” It started with the captaincy, but it also occurred on the court. One of her favorite recollections, she said, was the Cyprus game, when she was asked to guard the Pirates’ 6-foot-3 Lori Parkinson.

“She was a lot bigger than me,” she said, smiling. “But I think she had two points in the first half and the coach took me out in the third quarter. It was a great feeling.”

It might make Henderson feel better to know that Parkinson, who averaged 14.6 ppg and 15.6 rebounds and made the 4A all-state teams, was actually scoreless at halftime. Bingham handed the Pirates their only loss of the regular season, 59-48.

The Miners, of course, went on to finish 15-8. By Bingham standards, that might be a subpar year. But the team battled through adversity, injuries (not just Yack, but Anna Lokotui and Nicole Osborne), made state and advanced to the quarterfinals.

Henderson believes more good things are ahead, and this year will just make them stronger.

Bingham basketball: Madison Aulai-Roe profile

In mid-March, I went to Bingham High School and interviewed its four girls basketball taem captains. I wrote this article about Madison Aulai-Roe and it will be published in the team's post-season yearbook.


Thrilled to be a captain, she also
developed her role as the ‘stopper’

By Bruce Smith

The Bingham girls basketball team is all about chemistry. Opponents may marvel at the Miners’ talent, but even the best players aren’t guaranteed a championship run.

After Madison Aulai-Roe was voted to be a team captain just prior to the 2011-12 season, she began to recognize that. It’s rare for a junior to have a captain’s role. But with this year’s varsity squad made up of one senior, nine juniors, seven sophomores and a freshman, the usual rules were broken.

“The girls voted for them, but I have the final say,” said coach Rand Rasmussen. “All of them (the captains) were good role models and upheld the image of a Lady Miner.”

Rasmussen was the teacher. An early riser, this meant a lot of 5:30 a.m. practices and grumbles from the players. The captains were the glue that held them together.

“I’ve played with a lot of these girls since the fourth grade and we played a lot during the summer,” Aulai-Roe said. “We never expected there to be an easy games.”

With their talent and depth, Bingham could always compete. However, reducing the strife created among 18 (varsity) girls vying for playing time, attention, friends, schoolwork and their families was a full-time job itself.

This year’s team had all of that, plus a season-ending injury to its best player late in the season. Aulai-Roe said there were a lot of captain’s-only meetings to discuss it all.

“I felt like the team ‘mom,’” she said. “The players came to us with their problems. We’re still one huge family – on an off the court.”

Aulai-Roe gained anotjer role a few games into the season. To help manage Bingham’s depth, Rasmussen created two separate teams and usually substituted players five at a time. Aulai-Roe started on “Team 2.” Although she wasn’t a starter, the two squads usually had a similar amount of playing time.

An injury to sophomore Shelby Richards prior to the Cyprus game moved to her to “Team 1.” It worked out well for everyone, too, because one of Aulai-Roe’s favorite roles was to be the defensive stopper.

“That was my best game,” she said. “I played point guard, but my game was all about defense.”

Aulai-Roe grew up in Torrance, Calif., before moving to the Salt Lake area. She was coached by her dad, and often played against two older sisters, who ended up making the varsity teams at Highland and Copper Hills.

Against Cyprus, she defended guard Julie Caputo, who was one of its top players. Cyrpus was undefeated at the time, and ended up having one of its best seasons in school history. But in this game, Caputo finished with just five points, and was scoreless in the second half.

“I felt like I shut her down,” Aulai-Roe said.

After that, Aulai-Roe was often paired against an opponent’s top perimeter player. She scored 35 points all season and had a high game of six points against Brighton. Her niche, however, was defense.

“I’m told that I’m fast and I move my feet,” she said. “I usually guarded their point and tried to corrupt their game.”

Aulai-Roe said she was happy with Bingham’s season, and how the team bounced back from various inner-team issues, including Summer Yack’s injury. She said the team came together at the 5A state tournament, when they surprised Taylorsville in the first round.

“All the girls needed that,” she said. “We didn’t have any team unity issues. We knew that if we lost, we were out.”

Aulai-Roe felt that team chemistry should be a lot easier next year, but every player will be required to work hard. Because the Miners will lose just one senior, and have another talented group of younger players coming up, there is no guarantee anyone – even her – will make the team.

“We had nine juniors, but Rand said he probably won’t keep all of us,” she said. “We need to keep getting better and go out on top next year.”

Bingham basketball: Summer Yack profile

In mid-March, I had the opportunity to interview Bingham (Utah) guard Summer Yack. It was a great pleasure for me. She was the team's only senior and meant so much to the rest of them. The article below will be published in Bingham's post-season yearbook.

Summer Yack:

She was the team’s top scorer and
her leadership was noted everywhere

By Bruce Smith

It’s difficult to tell if Summer Yack knew how important she was to the Bingham girls basketball team this year.

Sure, she led the team in scoring at 14.2 points per game. She was also the leader in free-throw shooting, three-pointers and assists. She was the only senior on the squad and was named all-region and all-state, even though she missed the team’s last six games due to a torn ACL.

“Summer led us,” said Ashton Henderson, a team captain. “She was our (only) senior … our leader. We had four captains, but we all looked up to her.”

Fact is, everyone looked up to Yack, and not just her teammates. The opponent’s playbook on Bingham all read, “watch out for Yack.” And, at the end of the season, everyone watched her on the sidelines, too, as she watched games on crutches and, eventually, while wearing a “boot.”

She scored in double figures in 13 of the 17 games she played as a senior. She achieved a high game of 22 points twice – against Timpanogos and Lone Peak. She had a career-best five three-pointers her junior year against Layton.

Yack, of course, was hurt Jan. 26 in a game at American Fork. It was during the final minutes, and she still managed to hobble off the court. Her loss hurt the team, but that’s not how she wanted to be remembered.

Yack was a rare four-year varsity letterwinner at Bingham, and she made a contribution each year – even as a freshman. She finished her Bingham career with 658 points. Coach Rand Rasmussen said she was one of the top players in his 23 years at the school.

“She was our most mature kid and a calming influence (this year),” he said. “We missed her shooting, her unselfishness, her ability to find the right person and get them set up to score. Just her presence.”

Yack grew up just a couple of blocks from Bingham and she and Rasmussen met at a summer camp when Yack was a third grader. Rasmussen said he knew she was destined to be something special.

"She's from a family of athletes, and that work ethic has been demonstrated in her family," Rasmussen said. "She played as hard at practice as she does in a game. When we finished practicing, she'd go back to the gym and shoot some more. ... She's the kind of kid who will go to rehab 40 times a day rather than once."

Yack became almost like another coach afterward, sitting next to Bingham’s assistants on the bench and providing support to her teammates. Her time there made her appreciate her playing days even more.

She said her best memories of the season was helping Bingham to a 9-0 start. Her favorite game was when she scored 21 points in the Miners’ 68-52 home victory over rival Alta, who was also the defending 5A champion.

“We were excited to play that one, and we were up by 30 at one time,” she said.

What made Yack so effective was her three-point shooting. In that game, Yack had two and Jilian Powell and Ashton Henderson added one each. For the season, Bingham prided itself on its perimeter play and, with Yack leading the way, used three-pointers to key momentum swings.

“A three-pointer can really turn a game around,” she said. “For a while, it was all clicking.”

Yack received a basketball scholarship to play at Salt Lake Community College, and was happy to sign it shortly after tryouts. She was concerned that SLCC wouldn’t honor it following her injury, but Bruins’ coach Betsy Specketer was still happy to have her join the team.

Yack hoped to avoid further injuries and continue her playing career. Certainly, her abilities were welcomed at Bingham and played a big role in the team’s success during her stay here.

Bingham girls basketball season recap

In mid-March, I interviewed Bingham (Utah) girls basketball coach Rand Rasmussen and four of his players. I wrote this article for the team's yearbook, recapping the season.

Great memories for Miners, but …

Team recovers
from various issues
and keeps high hopes

By Bruce Smith

Bingham coach Rand Rasmussen has had a lot of memorable moments in his 23 years coaching the girls basketball team.

He had a lot more this season:

* - Nine straight wins to start the year.
* - Victories over powerhouse teams like Alta and Cyprus.
* - A difficult schedule, playing in a new region.

In the end, the Miners finished with a 15-8 record, and earned a berth into the 5A state tournament. Then they surprised a No. 1 seed – Taylorsville – in the opener. They did all this despite off-court issues at midseason and then they lost Summer Yack, their only senior and leading scorer, to a torn ACL.

Rasmussen didn’t win the coach of the year award, but anyone associated with Bingham probably felt he deserved it.

“I just enjoyed hanging out with the kids,” he said. “They goofed off at the right time, but they knew how to turn it on. I liked the journey.”

Yack could say the same. She played a role on four different Bingham teams that combined to win 71 games. When she graduated, she was among the school’s most-significant players. She ranked in the top 20 in several different offensive categories. She was second in three-point goals (89) and 11th in scoring with 658 points.

Her fate, as well as the team, might have been much
different this year except for the season-ending injury she suffered in a game at American Fork. At the time, Bingham had a narrow lead over the Cavemen but ended up losing by 15.

“She went for a steal and missed it,” recalled Rasmussen. “She looked all wrong and couldn’t get up. I knew immediately.”

Yack played part of her junior year with a broken foot, but didn’t tell anybody. She had it repaired after the season was over. This time, she hobbled back to the bench and was on crutches until having surgery two weeks later. Still, she attended team-building events, practices, games and helped wherever possible.

Opposing coaches and the media recognized her importance. Despite missing six games, she was named first team all-state by the Deseret News and second team by the Salt Lake Tribune.

“She scored 234 points, was a captain, our most mature kid and a calming influence,” Rasmussen said. “The real story of our season, though, was how our team rallied afterward.”

Yack said the following week was “brutal” for her. However, this Bingham team had a lot of depth. The depth was so extensive that Rasmussen substituted five players at a time. The Miners used a week off before their next game to heal emotionally. They rallied behind fellow captains Madison Aulai-Roe, Jilian Powell and Ashton Henderson and won its next two games.

A loss to Lone Peak prevented Bingham from finishing in second place. Instead, the Miners went into state as a No. 4 seed and a lot of questions.

“But we beat a No. 1 and we handled them just fine,” recalled Rasmussen. “We were playing a No. 1 seed every bloody day. That had a lot to do with how we beat Taylorsville. We were up 10-0 from the start.”

The Miners got a big lift from sophomore Shelby Richards, who scored 23 points in that game and showed huge potential. Bingham lost its quarterfinal contest to Weber, but that didn’t dampen the future.

Richards was a great example of Bingham’s potential. Rasmussen expects to return another young squad next year that could include Aulai-Roe, Powell, Henderson, Richards, Lateesha Richards, Mackenzie Bruggeman, . The Miners will only lose one senior (Yack). If they can get through another tough region season, they could once again challenge for the state title.

Many of those players were part of the junior varsity team, which finished 19-1. The sophomores were 10-10. Overall, Rasmussen said he was once again proud of the entire squad.

“I liked the commitment they all put into it, even though each game is just 32 minutes,” he said. “They take it serious and they hurt when we lose.”

Riverton basketball: Girls 2011-12 season recap

In early March, I interviewed Riverton girls basketball coach Ron Ence and published his team's 2011-12 yearbook. Here is the article that recapped the team's season.

Silverwolves create some believers

Saunders gets a lot
of help as Riverton rolls
to another region title

By Bruce Smith

The biggest, most-memorable event of the Riverton Silverwolves’ 2011-12 girls basketball season didn’t come on the basketball court.

It came in print – and it was midway through the season. As the Silverwolves were plodding along with a 7-3 record, the Deseret News published its preview of 5A basketball and picked them fourth in Region 4. After seeing that, coach Ron Ence had no problem inspiring his team.

“The article did slight us. We had kids with varsity experience returning, but we were working to find what rotation would work,” Ence said.

During that time, Riverton was in the middle of a winning streak that eventually lasted six weeks. In that time, Riverton turned itself and all of Region 4 into believers. The Silverwolves eventually finished with a 19-5 record, captured the region crown for the second straight year and advanced all the way to the 5A semifinals.

“It wasn’t a huge surprise to us because we had high expectations,” Ence said. “I thought this team – by the end of December – could compete with anybody.”

What made Riverton so strong was its defense – and depth. Riverton gave up an average of 37.5 points per game, which was second-best in 5A.

On offense, Whitney Saunders averaged 10.8 points per game and was the team’s leading scorer. She was also voted the Region 4 MVP. Morganne Campbell was named to the first team and four other players (Jamie Smith, Gerika Ballard, Lauren Bond and Andy Denos) were on the second team or honorable mention.

However, the Silverwolves had other contributors. At least nine different players made a difference and they often did at key times.

Take junior Jamie Smith, for example. She averaged 7.5 points per game, but reached double figures seven times. Her best outings came in important games like Fremont, Timpview, Pleasant Grove, Lone Peak, American Fork and the season finale against Weber.

Senior Andy Denos came off the bench all season. However, she saved her best games for rival Bingham. She averaged less than 4.0 ppg, but had 10 and 11 points in wins over the Miners. Any Riverton player can tell you that beating Bingham was a big part in their region title.

“Our team was ‘win by committee,’” Ence said. “Our players had a role. When we were successful, we were getting balanced scoring. I’d love to have a top gun but the girls didn’t seem to care who scored.

“With this team, we were going to be successful when everyone contributed.”

Fittingly, Riverton clinched the region title at home against Bingham. Despite having a No. 1 seed, the media once again didn’t expect the Silverwolves to play a role in deciding the 5A champion. Riverton wasn’t impressive in beating Granger in the first round, but earned its biggest victory two days later when it upset(?) Layton.

“When we won that game, we realized we just had to win one more to make the final,” Ence said. “Once that happened, it was a big deal for us and the school.”

The Lancers had lost just twice all season – both to eventual champion Syracuse, which won it all and finished 22-0. Riverton’s chance at its first-ever state title fell short, however, when the Silverwolves lost to Weber the next day.

“It was a tough way to end an amazing run, and an amazing season,” Ence said.

The school support was there, too. The students had always come to the Bingham games, but they also began to grow late in the year as they realized this could be a special season.

Logan basketball 2011-12 season recap

Here is the article I wrote for the Logan (Utah) boys basketball yearbook, recapping the Grizzlies' 2011-12 season.

Grizz turn their fortunes around

Senior leadership,
early season victories
spell success in 2011-12

By Bruce Smith

It was a good sports year at Logan High School. Shortly after the football team thrilled the school and the local community by winning the 4A championship, the basketball team took to the court.

Coach Logan Brown welcomed the higher expectations the football squad’s success brought. The players took that to heart and it resulted in success after success. The Grizzlies had an eight-game winning streak early in the season. That paved the way to a 16-6 overall record and a share of the Region 5 championship.

“It was a very good journey for our team,” said Brown, whose club was 5-16 a year ago. “You have to credit the kids for changing that tradition and getting us back on track. It was a magical season.”

The season included a thrilling 77-75 home victory over Sky View, which was rated the top 4A team prior to the season. Logan won several close games during the year, including the final two that put the Grizzlies on top of the standings at the end.

The Grizz did it with a defense that focused on deflections and creating turnovers. That fed their fastbreak and helped them average 63.7 points per game, which was among the highest in Utah.

Logan advanced to the 4A state tournament but fell to Herriman on a last-second shot.

After winning a few games the same way this year, what goes around finally came around.

“The excitement of our games … there was nothing better,” said Brown. “Winning is contagious and there were about 10 games where we were down late and our guys found a way to win. You attribute that go kids who just expect to win.

“We showed a high level of character,” he added. “They always seemed to find a way.”

The Grizzlies were led in scoring by senior Russell Murphy, who averaged 15.6 points per game and started the year strong despite missing most of the summer practice time with a shoulder injury.

He had a lot of help. Luke Falk averaged 11.1 ppg, and senior Johnny Luke helped the team to victory in many ways. Luke was voted Region 5’s top defensive player. He averaged just 6.7 ppg, but was the team leader in assists and steals. He had 4.6 rebounds per game and opponents always had to know where he was on the court.

“We had good leadership from our seniors, but we also had a lot of guys step up,” said Brown.

It started with the team’s trip to St. George in December. After the long bus ride, the team opened the four-team Ken Robison Classic with an 81-77 overtime victory over Spanish Fork, handing the Dons their first loss of the year. Then, on the next night, the Grizzlies downed the home team – Dixie – in another close game.

“That trip to St. George was great because we got tested in both of them,” Brown said. “After that, we had close games against Ogden, Bear River and Park City. The Hunter game taught us a lesson about making free throws and finishing games, and it helped us later to get put in a lot of those situations.”

Logan finished 7-3 in region play. The Grizzlies split with rival Sky View, but dropped both games to Mountain Crest. Each of those contests were intense and played in front of huge crowds. All of the Cache County schools are filled with sports tradition and the Grizzlies were able to match their counterparts this year.

Brown recognized he will lose four seniors – Murphy, Luke, Joe Bennion and Jake Cazier – to graduation, but felt the upcoming players, as well as the success brought from the junior varsity and sophomore programs, should keep Logan near the top.

“It takes time to achieve success when you move up (Logan moved from 3A to 4A in 2009-10), but our boys basketball program has tradition. No matter what league you’re in, you always have to play to high expectations.”

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Logan basketball: Johnny Luke profile

On Monday, March 12, I interviewed Logan (Utah) High School basketball player Johnny Luke. He's quite an athlete and played a big role in the Grizzlies' success. Here is the article I wrote for the Logan boys basketball yearbook.


Grizzlies’ athletic guard led the way
to great success in multiple sports

By Bruce Smith

Johnny Luke was considered the most athletic player on the Logan basketball team. But, in retrospect, he was also the most crafty.

And his talents weren’t just limited to basketball.

Luke also played on Logan’s 4A state championship football team. He was a three-year starter and led the state with 12 interceptions as a senior. One of his best memories was celebrating as the Grizzlies defeated East in the title game at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City Nov. 18.

He didn’t celebrate long. A few days later, Luke was on the basketball court.

“I played very sport,” he said. “Soccer, football, basketball. My favorite sport is volleyball, but I only played football and basketball at Logan.”

Luke grew up in 29 Palms, Calif., but his family moved to Logan to be near his newly married sister, and also because it had a better economy. The Grizzlies, of course, already had a fine athletic program, but were glad to have Luke’s help.

“There wasn’t a more athletic kid in our region, maybe in our state, at the guard position,” said coach Logan Brown. “He can do so many things. He can surprise you. He played great defense, but he’ll get steals and deflections.
“You can’t teach his instincts.”

His instincts caused opposing quarterbacks all kinds of problems. Luke said his all-time favorite sports memory was when he intercepted three passes in Logan’s 67-7 victory over Sky View. He had three other games when he picked off two passes.
Not surprisingly, he did the same thing in basketball.

Luke was the Grizzlies’ point guard. He averaged 6.7 points per game, but helped beat teams in other ways. He grabbed 4.6 rebounds/game and easily the team leader in steals (4.0) and assists (3.6). Those impressive statistics helped Logan to a 16-6 year.

“It was a good season. It was really successful,” Luke said. “We did what we wanted and were really productive. Coach was a real motivational guy. He told us to do what we were great at and that affected us.”

Luke had five games where had seven steals. Not surprisingly, he saved his best thefts for Sky View. In both games against the Bobcats, he had seven each.

“They’re our rival, and probably the best team we played all year,” he said. “It was great to beat them. It was a good game by all of our players. Everyone had an ‘on’ game that night.”

Luke was one of those guys whose success on the football field continued on the court. Brown said it was a pleasure to have the football players join the team after they had won state.

Luke’s winning attitude affected the other players. Even though he came into the season with no experience at point guard, Brown felt good things would happen if Luke had the ball.

“He just understands the game,” Brown said. “He had been an off-guard before, but he stepped in and led our team.”

Less than two weeks after his first practice, Logan opened the season against Uintah and Luke quickly showed he could handle his new position. Luke said one of his most-memorable assists came late in the game. He stole the ball from a Utes’ post player, grabbed it and saw teammate Russell Murphy downcourt. He fired a two-handed chest pass to him as quickly as he could.

Murphy was all alone and turned it into a dunk, firing up the home crowd.
“As long as I knew my teammates had my backside help, I could do whatever I wanted,” he said. “I could float around and try to make plays.”

Luke said his best game came late in the year when Logan played Box Elder. That night, he scored a season-high 17 points, but added four rebounds and three assists. Surprisingly, just one steal.

With basketball over, Luke took the spring off from competition. He said he planned to attend Utah State after graduation and walk-on to the football team.

There, he’ll see if his instincts and athleticism can carry on at the college level.
You can bet his Logan teammates will be cheering for him.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Logan basketball: Russell Murphy profile

On Sunday, March 11, I interviewed Logan (Utah) High School basketball player Russell Murphy. He was the team's leading scorer and has a chance to play college ball. Here is the article I wrote for the Logan boys basketball yearbook.


The confidence he gained in his game
allowed him to score from anywhere

By Bruce Smith

Coach Logan Brown remembers Russell Murphy’s breakout game like it was yesterday.

It wasn’t, of course, but it seemed that way.

“He stepped up against Mountain Crest as a junior and he just kept progressing,” Brown said. “He can go in there and bang with the bigs and he can outside and make shots.”

“I had been struggling up to that point,” Murphy recalled. “I hadn’t been producing. Joe Bennion was sick in that game and I started in his place. I had a really good JV game and, afterward, I looked up at the white board (in the locker room) and I saw my name in the starting position. I nearly freaked out.”

Murphy scored 11 of his team’s 13 points in the opening quarter and finished with a game-high 17. It set the tone for him the rest of the season and – eventually – his basketball career.

The confidence he had also made Murphy a huge attribute. He scored 490 points in his career here and was the leading scorer in Logan’s magical 2011-12 season.

“We all had fun,” said Murphy. “Going from last place last year to first place this year was something special and really exciting.”

The Grizzlies’16-6 record, eight-game winning streak, region title and visit to the 4A state tournament is what Murphy will remember most. He said believed this would be a special season from the start.

“In our first game of the year (Uintah), it was near the end of the game and we had a big lead,” he recalled. “I had a fast break and it was wide open. I knew that if I didn’t go up and try to dunk it, I would hear about it for the rest of my life. So, I went up with one hand and did it.”

The 73-50 victory in front of the home crowd was the first of many accomplishments – for him and the team.

“He’s an amazing kid … an amazing player,” said Brown. “He’s a ‘Steady Eddy’ and had a good year. He was definitely the backbone of our team.”

Murphy suffered a shoulder injury playing baseball as a freshman. It created problems throughout high school, and he finally had it surgically repaired shortly after the season ended last year. The injury ended his baseball career, but didn’t affect basketball. He recuperated during the summer and missed playing in tournaments.

He actively supported Logan’s championship football team during the fall, and was ready for the first day of basketball practice.

As a 6-foot-4 senior, Murphy averaged 15.6 points per game. He also led the team in field-goal accuracy at 49.8 percent and was the team’s top rebounder (6.1/game). His high game came when it counted. He scored 23 points and had 14 rebounds in Logan’s 55-53 win at Bonneville that clinched a tie for region.

What Murphy remembers best, however, is the celebration afterward. It was one of many.

“When we won the (Ken Robison) tournament at Dixie (St. George), we acted like we were sad when coach came into the locker room, then we surprised him and showered him with water. After the Bonneville game, there was no surprise. We all doused him and he had a great big smile on his face.”

The first-round tournament loss to Herriman didn’t spoil what had been accomplished. There were still good memories, despite the loss. As one of the team leaders, here are some of his favorites:

* - Going to St. George. “From that time one, all of us knew we were going to have a good season, and we were going to be competing in every game. In previous years, our team had struggled."
* - Going to Uintah (Vernal). “Our team really bonded and we had a fun time together.”

* - Beating Sky View at home. “The game was tied late and I had another chance to dunk. I was going downcourt and thought whether I should dunk it or lay it up. I was looking at film later and noticed that coach (Brown) was watching me the whole time. As I went toward the basket, my knee buckled, so I just laid it up. I didn’t get as high as I usually do. I’m glad I did that. After that, they (the Bobcats) had to start fouling.”

Murphy hopes there will be more basketball memories in his future. He planned to play AAU basketball during the summer and hoped to earn a scholarship before leaving on an LDS Church mission.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Logan basketball: Jake Cazier profile

On Saturday, March 11, I interviewed Logan (Utah) High School basketball player Jake Cazier. His team just finished their season and this article about him will appear in his team's post-season yearbook.


His role may have been as a backup,
but he relished making himself known

By Bruce Smith

Of all the Logan basketball players, Jake Cazier should have played football.

He loved the excitement, the physicality and the competition. Cazier, however, also had a back injury. It may have prevented him from getting on the gridiron, but nowhere else.

Cazier was Logan’s backup center. Coach Logan Brown said the 6-foot-4 post player also looked the best getting off the bus. His bruising presence gave the Grizzlies a means to counter bigger teams in Region 5 and was a welcomed addition as the team rolled to a 16-6 season record.

“He is one of the highest-character kids I’ve ever coached,” Brown said. “He got rebounds and putbacks and was always defending. Always ready to step up.”

Until his senior year, Cazier was mostly known at Logan for all the hours he spent in the weight room – up to 10 hours per week. He used his brawn best competing for the Logan track and field team. As a senior, Cazier was Logan’s biggest hope in the decathlon, an event that usually is an invitation to only the best athletes.

“I love basketball and it’s way more fun,” Cazier said. “It’s just that track and field is what I’m really good at doing.”

Cazier was Logan’s track MVP as a junior. He didn’t get that kind of recognition in basketball, but the Grizzlies were made up primarily of role players. He played in every game as a senior and average 3.1 points per game. He had nine points and eight rebounds in the opener against Uintah. He also had eight points against Box Elder.

“It was a great season,” Cazier said. “We went from being last in our region to tying for first (place). The team was more like a family. We were always buddies. I loved it all. I didn’t want it to end.”

Cazier said his favorite moment was Logan’s home victory against Sky View.

“The very end of that game was my favorite. It was my favorite moment through all of basketball. The students stormed the court and it was a monumental moment.

“I was on the bench late in the game. When Luke Falk hit those free throws, we jumped up and down. We went into the locker room and doused the coach (with water) afterward. It was great.”

Brown said Cazier played a big role in that game, even though his statistics showed just four points and two rebounds.

“He was pushing Casey Oliverson around,” Brown said. “He did a great job coming off the bench and playing his role.”

Cazier said he wasn’t necessarily pushing. He was just trying to play his game.

“Coach told me to make myself known and I was just trying to bring energy,” he said. “I enjoyed moving people around and having high intensity to get boards (rebounds). I put in some points here and there. Mostly, it was keeping the (team) energy rolling.”

Cazier said he felt his best game was Logan’s home game against Box Elder. The night before, he attended a team meeting where Brown asked the players to set goals for the game.

“I didn’t play a ton of minutes, and I don’t remember my stats,” he said. “But coach set up a rating scale and it was my best game.”

Playing in the state tournament at the Maverik Center in Salt Lake was also a thrill. Cazier remembered when the Logan varsity basketball team last made it to state – as a 3A team – when he was a freshman and he wanted to feel that experience again.

“I kind of forgot about, but when we got there, I remembered,” he said. “It was a dream come true. The atmosphere was amazing. I felt like we all tried our best.”

With all those great moments, it doesn’t bother Cazier that he didn’t play football. As a senior, he and Russell Murphy helped lead the Grizzlies’ cheering section at all of the football games, and he felt the football team reciprocated during the basketball season.

After graduation, Cazier said he planned to work full-time during the summer, attend Utah State University and then leave on an LDS Church Mission. He hopes to eventually earn a degree in engineering.

“I’m going to try to get on the track team there,” he said. “Whatever happens … happens, but I’ll give it my best.”

Logan basketball: Joe Bennion profile

On Sunday, March 11, I interviewed Joe Bennion, a senior at Logan (Utah) High School who just finished playing on this year's basketball team. Here is the article about him that will appear in this year's Logan basketball yearbook.


Grizzlies’ post had a defensive role
that helped spur the team’s offense

By Bruce Smith

The Logan Grizzlies were looking to take big steps forward during the 2011-12 boys basketball season. Coach Logan Brown didn’t know what to expect, only that it was important that the players fill roles, play with passion and as a team.

Joe Bennion was good to have along.

Bennion, Logan’s 6-foot-6 post player, looked like he was too old to play when he actually was among the youngest. During road games, fans sometimes called him “college boy” because of his facial hair.

Bennion transferred from Sky View after his eighth grade year and it was his size that was the most noticeable. He ended up being a three-year varsity player and scored 211 points in his career. But Bennion admitted that’s not why he played so much, starting in every game but the opener as a senior.

“Just blocking shots,” he said. “I was a defensive presence. I also deflected a lot of passes. I thought I was a really good defender.”

So did coach Brown, who craftily tried to put the team together like a puzzle.

“One thing about Joe is he played with all heart,” Brown said. “It was such an advantage to have him as a presence defensively. We really preach deflections and Joe got a lot of them … blocking shots.”

Brown noted that most of his team-high 45 blocks remained inbounds, too. Often, a teammate would pick up the loose ball and it led to a fast break. That helped the Grizzlies average more than 63 points per game, easily the most in Region 5 and one of the highest among Utah high schools.

“Joe really had a good year,” Brown said. “For a big guy, he can really run the floor and beat guys in transition.”

The 2011-12 season easily Bennion’s best, and not just because Logan had a 16-6 record. Growing up, he played soccer but decided in the seventh grade to follow in the footsteps of his older brother, Chris. He was 6-3 as a freshmen and that decision seemed to fit.

However, an illness or injury followed him every year – until now.

“My junior year, I got mono(nucleosis),” he said. “My sophomore year, I had the flu and was still kind of sick all year.”

As a senior, he waited for another ailment. Fortunately, it never arrived and Bennion and the team benefited.

His best-scoring game was a pair of 10-point efforts against Bear River and at Uintah. He also blocked five shots in a game at Morgan. Still, Bennion said he was at his best against Sky View.

“When we played them here, that was the team’s best game,” he said. “We had a lot of good plays. We had great chemistry and … we obviously won. The fans stormed the floor. It was great.”

It also meant a lot to Bennion because he lived within Sky View’s boundaries and knew a lot of the players.

“That game here was pretty intense,” he said. “I think a lot of people didn’t expect us to beat them, but I always thought we could.

“There was a lot of talking on the court, most of it from me. My teammates encouraged me to get into the other player’s heads.”

Playing at Sky View later in the season was more difficult for Bennion because of his history there. He tried not to let it bother him and focused on battling the Bobcats’ burly center Casey Oliverson. Bennion didn’t score, but had a team-high eight rebounds and three blocks in the loss.

Bennion said there was also a play against Herriman in the 4A state tournament he’ll never forget.

Early in the game, a Herriman player was on his way to the basket when Bennion hustled back and got one of his two blocks in the game.

“He thought he was wide open, and I just got up and hit it (the ball) off the backboard,” he said. “It was one of the first plays of the game. We wanted to make a statement.”

With the season now over, Bennion said he plans to enroll at Utah State University for a year before going on an LDS Church Mission. Even with his height, he figured his basketball career was probably over, but his memories will keep.

“We had a lot of potential last year. We had games we could have won, but had problems finishing off games,” he said. “This year, we played in a big tournament at St. George and it (the two wins) gave us a lot of confidence. It stayed with us all year.”

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Copper Hills football: Zach Smith feature

Earlier this year, I interviewed Copper Hills senior wide receiver Zach Smith. While he didn't have the statistics he had hoped for, it was still a great year for him that he will always remember. Zach also a teammate, Henry Kemp, who moved in with him and his mother and the two players became like brothers. Zach had a good story to tell. This article will appear in the CHHS 2011 footbal yearbook.


It was more than just a great football season,
but an opportunity to play with his “brother”

By Bruce Smith

Zach Smith was a good high-school athlete. More than that, he was a sports fan.

In Smith’s mind, the 2011 Copper Hills football season was a big success. But the year also offered much more.

Smith played wide receiver for the Grizzlies. He was only 5-foot-8, but led the team with 19 catches for 403 yards – over 21 yards per reception. He ended the season on a high note with six catches for 121 yards, including a touchdown, in Copper Hills’ game against Brighton. His lone score was also the team’s final touchdown.

“I knew we had the weaponry to score,” Smith said. “Of course, I wanted the ball but changing the offense did help us win.”

Copper Hills’ new offense, which changed from the spread to more of a rushing attack, was the smaller of the changes to affect Smith.

Smith was an only child until his senior year, when he and his mother invited teammate Henry Kemp to live with them. Kemp had been staying with his grandmother, but things weren’t working there and the Smiths lived closer to the school.

“It worked out well for all of us,” Smith said. “It was nice to have someone (my age) to talk to.”

Kemp was also an athlete. He was Copper Hills’ second-leading rusher and caught eight passes for 82 yards. Kemp was one of the team’s fastest players. He had a pair of touchdowns, including an electrifying 74-yarder against Hillcrest that was one of the most memorable plays of the season.

Thus, two of the Grizzlies’ best offensive players lived in the same household. Smith said he enjoyed it, and having Kemp around made it feel like he had a brother.

Though genetics had nothing to do with it, the duo combined to give Copper Hills a quick-strike ability. Coach Kai Kapele admitted prior to the start of the season that one of his goals was to make the Grizzlies a threat from anywhere on the field. He said Smith and Kemp quietly provided that.

“(Zach) didn’t say much,” Kapele said. “But those guys were among the first (to come to the weight room) and work out every morning. They were motivated.”

Smith said he, of course, relished every big play he made and also cheered loudly for Kemp. He said the game he will remember most was homecoming night against American Fork, when Copper Hills rallied from a first-half deficit to post a 21-14 win.

“That was the best feeling ever,” he said. “When Tommy (Ligman) made that fumble return, I caught the two-point conversion to tie the game.

“I was wide open,” he added. “I guess they were expecting a run because we were running on them the whole game.”

The Brighton game also provided a big thrill. Smith hadn’t scored all year until the fourth quarter, when he hauled in a 40-yard scoring pass. He said he didn’t expect the year to end that way.

“I was supposed to run an ‘out’ route, but coach changed the play,” he recalled. “(QB Christian) Reese put it right on the money. It was weird. When I reached the end zone, I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t walk to the sideline because everybody was congratulating me. They all wanted me to score.”

After the season, Smith was selected to Region 3’s second team, which he appreciated. He said it was great to see the team develop a great attitude, which was fueled by hard work in the offseason and it’s early success.

Smith called Kemp the team’s most improved player, but admitted he might not be impartial. Together, the duo combined for more great plays and they remembered all of them.

Copper Hills football: Koehler feature

A few months ago, I interviewed Copper Hills (Utah) offensive lineman Spencer Koehler. He's a senior and had just ended his high school football career. We talked about the season, and all that he accomplished. Here is the article that will appear in this year's Copper Hills football yearbook.


Early season success helped Grizz
create camaraderie and a lot of smiles

By Bruce Smith

Spencer Koehler will remember the 2011 football season at Copper Hills very well.

As the Grizzlies’ offensive right tackle, he was also right in the middle of it all. He was also “only” 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, meaning he was outweighed by his opponent in almost every game. But he didn’t let that stop him.

“AF (American Fork) and Alta … those guys were a lot bigger than me,” he recalled. “But I was able to keep up with them speed-wise.”

In Koehler’s mind, he felt there were two particular times that made a big difference in the 2011 Copper Hills football season.

Ironically, the first came the day before the season opener. The varsity, of course, took on Taylorsville but the Warriors’ didn’t have enough players to field a junior varsity team. That forced Copper Hills to reschedule and they found 4A power Timpview available.

“We thought there was no way we would win,” Koehler said. “But we scored on a fumble return and stayed right with them. We had never been that good in football until that day.”

Koehler sometimes drew double-duty, and played varsity, too. After beating Taylorsville 27-18 in the opener, however, the Grizz started questioning themselves again after losing to Kearns, 31-0.

Koehler said the offense was anxious to prove the opener was no fluke when they took the field the next time.

“We took the old Copper Hills mentality and threw it out the window,” he said. “We executed better than we ever had before.”

On the game’s second play, quarterback Aaron Khan pitched the ball to Henry Kemp. Koehler and the rest of the offense went to work and, less than one minute into the game, Copper Hills led 7-0.

“I got a perfect cut (block) on my guy,” Koehler said. “I did my job like I was supposed to and Henry did the rest. He got to the corner and he’s really fast.”

That was the start of a memorable night for almost every Grizzly player. Copper Hills rushed for 286 yards, a season high and one of the best totals in years.

“Hillcrest stood in the same defense and we just overpowered them,” Koehler said. “That was my best game. The O-Line’s main goal was to get as many rushing touchdowns as we could.”

The Grizzlies’ early season success inspired the players, Koehler noted that the players seemed to get along all season. There was camaraderie and no fights among the players.

“Winning helped make everyone happy,” he said. “It was good to see coach Kai (Kapele) with a big smile on his face.”

It also fueled optimism throughout the Copper Hills student body. Koehler said while the players may have had some doubts, the students didn’t.

Fan support was high through much of the season. The fans, especially the student body, was hungry to see changes and it started at Taylorsville, where Koehler noted there were more Grizzly fans than the home team could field.

“It was pretty amazing, and there was always lots of school spirit,” he said.

That spirit continued during the winter, when Koehler and many other football players joined the student section at boys basketball games, which they called the “Grizzly Den.”

Copper Hills football: Ligman feature

Earlier this year, I interviewed Copper Hills football player Tommy Ligman. We talked about the recent football season and all that he has accomplished. A senior, he was one of the team's most talented, and inspirational players. Here is the article that will appear in the CHHS 2011 football yearbook.


His passion created big plays
and caught on with his teammates

By Bruce Smith

The Copper Hills-American Fork football game on Sept. 16, 2011 was an example of what the Grizzlies had in Tommy Ligman.

After the 2010 football season ended, he had had enough. At just 5-foot-7 and 170 pounds, Ligman led a group of Grizzly players into coach Kai Kapele’s office and said they were ready to prepare for the following year.

Copper Hills had just finished a 0-10 season and Kapele wasn’t certain how he would motivate his players. But he learned something about Ligman that day.

“He’ll support the team all the way,” Kapele said. “He’s a gladiator.”

Ligman and several other players were in the weight room for much of the offseason, and led the Grizzlies’ charge in 2011. Ligman knew his senior season would probably be his last on the football field and wanted something more to remember.

“Football is my main sport,” Ligman said. “I played soccer growing up, but I moved here in the fourth grade (from California) and football has been my passion since.”

He tried to pass that passion to his teammates, and it worked. He played a big role in the Grizzlies’ offense and defense. He was the team’s top rusher with 797 yards and led the team with eight touchdowns. On defense, he was the third-leading tackler and always near the action.

The big changes in the Grizzlies started in the summer at selected 7-on-7 passing tournaments and camps. However, nobody really knew how it would translate when the actual season started. Once the opener arrived, things happened fast.

Despite a more conservative offensive approach, Ligman rushed for 93 yards and competed 2-of-2 passes for 63 yards as Copper Hills went to Taylorsville and won, 27-18.

That ended the long losing streak, and the smiles in the locker room afterward were contagious.

“It was a great feeling after going 0-10,” Ligman said. “It ended up being the start of a really fun year. My favorite part was playing with all of my friends. There was so much brotherhood. The toughest part was when it was over.”

In-between, there were several highlights, created by victories and the team’s new attitude.

The victory at Taylorsville started it, but two weeks later, Ligman rushed for 156 yards and tied a school record with four touchdowns as Copper Hills thrilled the home crowd with a 50-21 win over Hillcrest.

Homecoming night welcomed the biggest crowd of the season and there was more celebrating. The Grizzlies’ offense had trouble moving the ball, but Ligman and Zach Watts returned fumbles for touchdowns as Copper Hills rallied to beat American Fork.
What happened when the clock ran out – at least to Ligman – was surreal.

“It was awesome,” he said. “The fans rushed the field. It was the greatest feeling ever. It brought me to tears. We were 3-2 and were heroes at that point.”

Everything Ligman and his teammates had worked so hard for was finally happening. The memories of just one win in the last two years had been erased. Despite playing in a more-difficult region, Copper Hills was a contender.

“We had kids who played with heart,” said Kapele. “Tommy Ligman was our leader. He played hurt, but that drive kept him playing and the other kids caught on.”

It didn’t matter that Copper Hills didn’t win a region game. The important part was they didn’t quit and there were instances when that was obvious.

Another of Ligman’s favorite memories came late in the season at Cottonwood. Ligman rushed for 120 yards and scored twice. The game’s biggest play, in Ligman’s opinion, came late when he went out on a slant pattern.

Quarterback Aaron Khan’s pass was deflected by an athletic Cottonwood defender, but snatched out of the air by Ligman, who outran the entire Colt secondary and went 69 yards for a touchdown.

It may not have been the Grizzlies’ longest play from scrimmage all season, but it was the most surprising. It also was sent to the website and was tabbed one of the best high school plays of the year.

How long that video will remain on Maxpreps? Nobody knows. But it is something Ligman can always treasure.

Ligman said he would like to remain active in sports as he gets older. He said he hoped to attend Southern Utah University and, like Kapele, get involved in special education.

It’s possible his passion there will continue to be contagious and help others.

Copper Hills 2011 football recap

Lastm month, I interviewed Copper Hills (Utah) football coach Kai Kapele and we talkeda bout his team's 2011 season. It was a good year for the Grizzlies. This article will appear in the CHHS football yearbook.

New attitude, wins lead to a great year

By Bruce Smith

Coming into the 2011 season, the Copper Hills football team had won just one game over the previous two years.

Worse yet, in most games the Grizzlies weren’t competitive. As the team prepared to enter a new, even more difficult region, wholesale changes had to be made. Coach Kai Kapele introduced a new offense, but that’s not what turned things around.

Simply, a new attitude developed.

“It really started right at the end of last season when the kids decided they needed to work hard to achieve what they wanted,” Kapele said. “They put a lot of work in the weight room and showed a lot of heart and drive.”

The Grizzlies won their season opener – at Taylorsville – and captured three of their first five games. That created a euphoric feeling that caught on, not just with the players but the students, too. Copper Hills didn’t win a region game and finished 3-7, but achievements were clearly made.

“I definitely feel like we made improvement,” Kapele said. “Our coaching staff focused on what schemes worked better here. We’ve gotten closer to what works with the kinds of kids we have.”

Seniors Christian Rixe, Tommy Ligman, Zach Smith, Henry Kemp and several others led the way. The team set a school record with 27 points in the first quarter in a 50-21 decision over Hillcrest, but had just five first downs in an improbable 21-14 victory against American Fork.

After the American Fork win, the fans flooded the field to congratulate the players.

“It was awesome,” said Ligman, who was the team’s leading rusher during the season. “When the fans rushed the field, it was the greatest feeling ever. It brought me to tears.”

“That was our best defensive game,” added Zach Smith. “When it was over, I looked up and wondered, “Did we just do that?”

They did. It wasn’t a total turnaround, but the coaches viewed it as a stepping stone toward success. Since the school opened in 1995, it has never finished with a winning record. However, this improvement made was one of the best by any Utah high school team.

“The whole school was happy,” said Kapele. “American Fork was one game where the kids put everything into it. We knew region was going to be tough and we had to capitalize on the preseason games.”

Ligman and Rixe made the all-region team. They made plays on both sides of the ball and avoided injuries. Even when Copper Hills’ success faded as the region season progressed, they never quit and inspired their teammates to do the same.

The team’s offense was more conservative than the “spread” offense from years past, but it resulted in more success rushing the football. Ligman and Kemp were the leading ground-gainers as the Grizzlies also set a school mark in that area.

The passing attack didn’t provide much. When it did, however, it often resulted in big plays. Smith and Bryson Allen averaged over 20 yards per reception. Kapele called Allen one of the team’s most improved players.

“I always knew that Rixe and Ligman could play,” he said. “Bryson was a real surprise. He played defensive end and tight end. This was his first year on varsity and it blew me away how much he improved.”

Overall, there was improvement everywhere.

“Wins will do that,” said Ligman. “We worked hard all year and played well at (7-on-7) tournaments during the summer. Those were team-building events and helped us play for each other during the season.”

The five consecutive region losses didn’t dampen the team’s motivation when the season ended. The coaches and players learned a lot. Will it lead to more success?

“This year, we felt like we had a chance in every game,” said Kapele. “We turned a few heads, but we still need to focus on getting the kids stronger.”

About Me

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I am the author of Matchup, which provides yearbooks to high school sports teams, commemorating their seasons.