Sunday, July 29, 2012

Springville basketball: Meghan Paynter profile

In early May, I went to Springville (Utah) High School and interviewed Meghan Paynter. She was a quality young lady. She didn't get to play much, but there was no doubt of the role she played. This is the article that will appear in the team's 2011-12 girls basketball yearbook.

Meghan Paynter:

She was a fine player, and a great fan,
and her exuberance elevated the team

By Bruce Smith

             The Springville girls basketball team’s 2011-12 season was Meghan Paynter’s “glory days,” and she knew it.
            The Red Devils’ 5-foot-6 senior guard was easily the most vibrant player on the team. She scored just three points all season, but her energy was contagious.
            “I was known for being strong in the post and boxing out,” she said.
            It turned out she was known for a lot more.
            “She gave the team all her support,” said coach Nancy Warner. “Every team needs a player like her. She was always happy to be part of the team and she showed it.”
            When there was a reason to cheer, Paynter did it. Nobody jumped higher, ran faster or smiled bigger than she did when the Devils made a big play on the court. Her playing time might have been limited, but there was no limit to her exuberance.
            “I didn’t get to play much, but I loved being able to cheer them on and give them self-esteem to accomplish the team’s goals,” said Paynter. “The goal was to win state and do the best that we could. I had it in my mind that we could win state. I liked the way we were developing.”
            The Devils fell just short of that goal, but surprised a lot of people with their effort. Paynter was on the court for the last few minutes of the championship game. Springville’s surge epitomized her playing career.
            Paynter said she started playing competitive basketball in the third grade. She played city league ball every year after that and joined the Springville program in high school. She started on the sophomore and junior varsity teams and was one of the top players. Her senior year, though, she learned that her role would change, and quickly found her niche.
            “I would try to make everyone happy,” she said. “I’ve always been loud and obnoxious. It has always been fun to make everyone laugh.”
            There were plenty of times when the Devils needed it. At Springville, girls basketball was a big deal, mostly because of the team’s recent success. They had made it the state championship game three straight years and had won the title the last two.
            There was no doubt about game days. Paynter said she enjoyed wearing dresses to school for home games and their “traveling gear” when they played on the road.
            She said the team’s turning point came at about midseason.
            “Coach said we weren’t taking them (the coaches) seriously,” she recalled. “They said they were here to help us succeed … not just talk about it.”
            Psychology was Paynter’s favorite class, and she recognized the role it played on the team this year.
            The Devils had a 4-8 record at the time, but the coaches and players then combined to inspire each other to eventually make the 4A state tournament. By the time they played their first state tourney game against Cyprus, every player had caught Paynter’s anxiety.
            Paynter said her favorite game was against Mountain Crest in the 4A state tournament. The game came down to the final seconds before the Devils earned a 61-59 win.
            “That was our team’s best game,” she said. “It was such a hard loss to them in the preseason. I was excited to play them at state, but I had mixed feelings about playing them again. It was nerve-wracking.”
            The Devils season ended on the court at the state championship game, and Paynter said the season-long ride was something she will always remember. After graduation, she planned to go to Snow College, where she had earned an academic scholarship, and then follow her parents in becoming a teacher.
            “I want to teach second grade,” she said. “My second-grade teacher was great and she had a big influence on me.”
            If this basketball season is any indication, she will likely play a big influence on many others, too.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Springville basketball: Aliza Allred profile

In early May, I interviewed Springville (Utah) basketball player Aliza Allred. From the start, it was obvious that she was a special girl and one of the most-impressive girls I interviewed all year. Here is the article that will appear in this year's Springville girls basketball yearbook.

Aliza Allred:

Her efforts led to a great prep career
and almost resulted in another title

By Bruce Smith

               Aliza Allred’s resume of high-school accomplishments was lengthy.
            As a junior, she was part of the Springville girls basketball team’s 4A state championship team. She also went to Africa (Zambia) with the Mothers Without Borders group.
            As a senior, she was a finalist in the FFA Sweetheart competition and later starred on the Springville softball team.
            But her favorite memory was what the Red Devils’ basketball run this year. Despite averaging just 2.0 points per game, her contribution may not have been recognizable to others, but …
            “Aliza Allred was the heart of our team,” said coach Nancy Warner.
            Allred was a special player. She played last year, but after the Red Devils lost seven seniors, including all-everything Lexi Eaton to graduation, she stepped up.
            Warner said she was an obvious choice for team captain because the 5-foot-10 senior was a workhorse who helped everywhere on the court.
            “Just sitting the bench last year was helpful,” said Allred. “I would have much rather been here than playing JV (junior varsity) ball. I knew what coach Warner expected and was able to help the other girls.”
            Springville started slowly, but came together at midseason. The Devils won seven of their last nine Region 8 games and then shocked everyone by reaching the 4A state championship game.
            “That’s what meant the most to me,” she said. “Our team was so close. When we played well together, it felt so good. Making it to the state tournament was the best. It is something I’ll tell my kids about.”
            In sports, defense is often responsible for winning championships, and Allred was usually asked to play center and guard the opponent’s tallest player. At the state tournament, it seemed Allred sometimes got lost among the bigger players.
            “They would come over my back (to try to get rebounds), but I could usually beat them down the floor,” she recalled.“
            She adjusted her game. What she didn’t have in talent she made up with added resolve. Allred said she was upset that Springville had lost to Timpview in its final home game on “Senior Night,” which was also her birthday. She had her teammates had an added resolve at state and it led to a win over top-ranked Cyprus in the opener and two more surprising victories.
            “The thing I liked most about (going to state) was that we were the underdog,” she said. “I had no doubt about it. It wasn’t a fluke to us.”
            “I had 19 fouls in the four (state) tournament games,” she added, laughing. “I backed off in some games, but at state I went all out.”
            That’s what was required for all the players for Springville. Every team wanted to beat the Devils because they had won the last two titles. The effort took a lot out of them, and that was apparent in the championship finale against Timpanogos, which started at 11 a.m. after the Devils defeated Mountain Crest 61-59 the night before.
            The Mountain Crest win also avenged a 73-38 loss earlier in the season. The Devils also rallied from a 13-point deficit. Allred said the victory was the high point of the season and showed how far the team had come.
            “That game was so great,” she said. “I fouled out with five seconds left and watched the end from the bench. I felt sick, but it’s all I could do.”
            The foul prevented Mountain Crest’s Karlee Kartchner from scoring, which would have tied the game, but it also sent Allred to the bench. With the crowd screaming, including many members of the Allred family section, Kartchner made 1-of-2 charity shots and Springville remained ahead. It ended up being a decisive factor in the outcome.
            “I watched it (the foul) later on film and I don’t know how her shot didn’t go in,” she said. “I fouled her pretty hard, though, because I didn’t want her to make it.”
            It was that kind of effort that led to her long, impressive resume and made this year a great memory for everyone on the team.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Springville basketball: Jasmine Hansen profile

In May, I went to Springville (Utah) and interviewed Jasmine Hansen, a senior who was part of the Red Devils girls basketball team that almost won the state tournament this year. It was a great pleasure. She had a lot of good basketball memories, but her true calling it seems may be music. Here is the article that will appear in Springville 2011-12 girls basketball yearbook.

Jasmine Hansen:

As one of the school’s best violinists,
she recognized the Devils’ sweet music

By Bruce Smith

            Jasmine Hansen might be known best for the way she played the violin. She was a special talent who began playing in sixth grade and eventually earned a partial scholarship to Utah Valley University.
            Hansen knows something about music, and the harmony she felt playing basketball at Springville is what made this season so special.
            “It was a lot of fun playing with my friends,” she said. “The state tournament was the best. We had a good run.”
            Hansen was a two-year varsity player. As a senior, she was a 5-foot-7 guard who started every game for the Red Devils. She said her overall highlight at Springville was being part of the 4A state championship team her junior year. However, her senior season was almost as special because of what the team accomplished.
            “Winning state was memorable, but shaking everyone up and making it to the state championship game was really cool,” she said.
            Hansen earned playing time as a junior, and was thrilled when the Red Devils defeated Mountain Crest 44-40 for the championship. She said the memories – and photographs – of her teammates celebrating on the court will last in her mind forever.
            As a senior, she started every game. She averaged 2.9 points per game, but had a lot more active role, including the state tournament.  Hansen had a high game of 12 points twice late in the season in consecutive games against Orem and Salem Hills, but wasn’t certain exactly what her role was on the team.
            “I just tried to give 100 percent,” she said. “Coach (Nancy Warner) always expects that and everyone knew it. There was never any rest.
            “When Malia (Nawahine) became part of our team, she was our go-to scorer. She played hard and got all the other players motivated.”
            Nawahine was the leading scorer and an active player on the team. Early on, the Red Devils struggled while still trying to believe what they could accomplish. After a 63-49 loss at home to Salem Hills dropped them to 4-8 overall and 1-4 in region, they had a team meeting aimed at making changes.
            “Coach had this theory,” Hansen said. “We had a lot of slow starts and she figured it was because we always practiced at one end of the court, but always started games at the other end.
            “What really happened was that we just started playing better,” she added. “We were sick of losing. We weren’t used to it.”
            Springville won five straight games and seven of its last nine of the regular season. Just as important, the team was clicking like the well-practiced orchestras Hansen always enjoyed.
            “By the state tournament, we were 11-10 and everyone was writing us off, but we were believing at that point,” she said.
            The team was the talk of the town and attracted most of the attention at the state tournament at Salt Lake Community College. Fellow Springville students also got excited about the possibility of a third consecutive state title.
            Hansen said she didn’t have her best offensive games at state, but tried to play hard and focused on defense. The Devils surprised top-ranked Cyprus in the first round, and followed up with wins over Sky View and Mountain Crest (a team that had beaten them by over 30 points earlier).
            Hansen described her effort this way:
            “I was playing tough defense and getting into their grills.”
            The Cyprus game was on a Tuesday and really got everyone excited. The title game occurred the following Saturday. In-between, Hansen said it was difficult to focus on anything.
            “At school, everyone was talking about it. I didn’t focus on homework at all. The teachers didn’t like it.”
            The final outcome wasn’t what Springville fans wanted, but it didn’t dampen their excitement. The ride to the title game was still a thrill.
            Hansen said the basketball season would probably be the end of her competitive athletic career. She said she planned to go to UVU and become a nurse, like her grandmother, who played an important role in her life.           

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Springville basketball: 2011-12 season recap

In April, I interviewed Springville (Utah) coach Nancy Warner and several players. This is the article recapping their season that will appear in the team's 2011-12 girls basketball yearbook.


 Red Devils quickly rebuild and surprise the state
by again challenging for the 4A championship

By Bruce Smith

             The Springville girls basketball team came into the 2011-12 season as the two-time defending state champions.
            The Red Devils had been in the 4A state championship game the last three years. A dynasty? Sure, but most people felt that was because of Lexi Eaton. This year, the Eaton legacy had moved on to BYU. Only one player had any varsity experience and opponents were not interested in sympathy.
            “I had to turn away (scheduling) teams because they knew we didn’t have Lexi,” said coach Nancy Warner. “This was going to be our rebuilding year.”
            However, in June, Malia Nawahine moved from San Diego and her family thought Springville would be a nice place to live – and for Malia to play basketball. The new-look Red Devils played together in tournaments during the summer, but the real surprise started a few months later.
            Springville finished with a 14-11 record, but that doesn’t tell the real story. Coming into their Jan. 20 game at Provo, the Devils were 4-8 overall (1-4 in Region 8) and in danger of missing the state tournament.
            A 57-43 win that night started a five-game winning streak – all on the road. The Devils finished 8-6 in Region 8, which was good enough for fourth place. At the state tournament, their hot streak continued as they “upset” top-ranked Cyprus in the first round, and followed that with wins over Sky View and Mountain Crest.
            “We were the underdog,” Warner said. “We were the ‘Cinderella’ story. That was a lot different.”
            The glass slipper fit well for several days during state tournament week. But after rallying from a 17-point deficit to beat Mountain Crest 61-59 in the semifinal the night before, the dream season ended with a 62-47 loss to region rival Timpanogos in a game that began at 11 a.m.
            The Devils didn’t win a third consecutive straight title. However, they accomplished a lot more in regards to public opinion.
            “The thing I liked most about the season was that we were the underdog,” said senior Aliza Allred. “Nobody took us seriously until we beat Cyprus, but I had no doubt about it. The season wasn’t a fluke to us.”
            Warner, who had won a national coaching award in February, also received coach of the year honors by the Salt Lake Tribune and Provo Herald. Some people on message boards had suggested she had walked into a good situation at Springville because of Eaton, but this year’s results erased all that.
            “We didn’t surprise ourselves,” said Warner, who was again joined by her husband, Chris, on the coaching staff and had their two children, Charli and Peyton, who usually sat with their grandparents in the stands.
            “At the start of the year, we weren’t even part of the equation but, by the end of the year, we knew we had improved. Us coaches, we didn’t lower our expectations because of our tradition.”
            Springville was an odd team. The Devils had a 4-7 record at home, but dominated on opponent’s courts. Starting midway through the season, they won nine consecutive away games, including the three straight at state.
            Nawahine was easily Springville’s top player. The 5-foot-10 junior was known mostly for her defense when she played in California, but became the Devils’ offensive fireplug. She averaged 18.1 points per game and was a dominant force at state. She made the all-region and all-state teams.
            “She was incredibly talented, and just what our young team needed,” said Warner. “Malia gave everyone an immediate boost with her willingness to do whatever it took to win.”
            Warner also credited Allred, calling her the “heart and soul of the team.” Savannah Park, a talented player who began attracting attention as a freshmen, averaged 10.3 ppg and had a fine season. Ashli Averett came off the bench and provided a spark, averaging 6.4 ppg.
            “We played some tough teams early, but we learned a lot,” said Warner. “In region, we got a lot better.“
            At state, they proved it.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Taylorsville football: Coach Rod Wells bio

In mid-July, I interviewed new Taylorsville (Utah) football coach Rod Wells. I'm helping Taylorsville by publishing its football program this year. This is the bio that will appear in the program.

Coach Rod Wells:

He became a success at Bear River
and follows the model of Ron McBride

By Bruce Smith

             When Taylorsville High School went looking for a new football coach, Rodny Wells was easy to find.
            He had spent 11 years as an assistant at Bear River in Tremonton, serving most recently as its defensive coordinator as the Bears won three 3A state championships.
            Wells was eager to leave and return “home,” he said. He had grown up in Tremonton, and starred at running back for the Bears, graduating in 1987. He was a punishing ball carrier that helped him earn a scholarship to play at the University of Utah. He had his best season as a freshman under coach Jim Fassell – lining up behind QB Scott Mitchell.
            Later, after his LDS Church mission, he was at Utah during the Ron McBride era.
            “I loved it up there,” he said. “That’s really where I grew up.”
            Thus, Salt Lake has become his adopted “home.” He applied for several different open coaching positions here during the spring, and Taylorsville principal Garett Muse believes he has found a good one.
            “Our problem isn’t so much at the varsity level,” Muse said. “The young kids around here are successful. We needed to find someone who can help keep them here (instead of moving or transferring elsewhere).”
            Wells may be that man. He and his wife, Gina, have four children and one (an 11 year-old) is still at home. The family moved into the Taylorsville boundary. Wells wants his last child to graduate from Taylorsville, which means he plans to be here a while.
            Wells doesn’t believe in magical transformations, political correctness or trick plays. He said success at Taylorsville starts with hard work and that begins in the weight room where, if you’ve ever seen him, you can tell he has spent plenty of time.
            It’s a belief similar to his mentor – McBride. As Wells takes his first head coaching position, he said he plans to use a lot of what he learned from him.
            “I just want to teach the kids to play like I did,” he said. “They need to know what success feels like.”
            Wells accepted the job last January and became Taylorsville’s seventh coach in its 31-year history. To date, the Warriors have won one region title and recorded nine winning seasons - but none since 2003. The last four years have been the worst – with a combined three victories in 40 games.
            “These kids are good kids,” said Wells. “They need discipline, but discipline with love.”
            On the field, the burly, bald 5-foot-6 coach admits “I get into the game.” He is fiery and passionate. Off the field, he treats his players with care and often tells them that he loves them. He said it took the Warriors several weeks to get used to him, but they’ve since caught on.
            “At first, I’d tell them that I love them and they thought it was strange,” he said. “Now they don’t think twice about it.”
            Wells also has a family he loves. Their children include Tricia Buchanan (Josh), Kayla Bingham (Zach), Payton and Valerie – and two grandchildren. Payton was a star running back at Bear River who is playing at Dixie State.
            Wells will teach special education and weight training at Taylorsville. He brings a new attitude – much what he learned from McBride, who was looking at a similar task at Utah.
            Wells calls it tough love and, so far, the Taylorsville players are buying into it. In late July, over 100 players had arrived for summer workouts.
            He doesn’t know what will happen in his initial season, but expects consistent improvement.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Raft River basketball: Sammie Montoya profile

In early April, I visited Raft River (Idaho) High School and spoke to Sammie Montoya, who was one of the players on the Trojans' girls basketball team. She was a fun interview, and impressive on and off the court. Here is the article that will appear in the team's basketball yearbook.

Sammie Montoya:

Her hustling play was a good reminder
of how the Trojans played this season

By Bruce Smith

             Sammie Montoya was a good example of the personality the Raft River girls basketball team displayed during the 2011-12 season.
            “We were quick and scrappy,” she said. “We weren’t as tall as a lot of the other teams. Our phrase was ‘quick and deadly’ and our animal was a snake.”
            Montoya was a unique 5-foot-6 senior, and it showed in all of her interests.
            Off the court, she was the yearbook editor and used her creativity to make an impressive publication. She worked during the summers and became a Certified Nursing Assistant. She said she planned to attend the College of Southern Idaho and Idaho State in hopes of eventually becoming a dentist.
            On the court, she hustled all over. She said she was known mostly for her assists, but everybody else had different words to describe her.
            “Sammie was our defensive stopper,” said coach Garth Steed. “She was the girl who covered the opponent’s best player most of the time.”
            Mostly, she stayed out of the limelight. While Echo Hansen and Wynter Holtman were scoring most of the points, Montoya was the player behind the scenes who helped make it happen. And, despite her carefree attitude, she avoided getting badly hurt.
            Montoya played every game and averaged 2.6 points. Of the starters, she shot the fewest times. She said she preferred to get rebounds and then shoot. Montoya also used her long arms to tip passes and she dove for loose balls. She said she had the biggest bruises of any player, but that’s the way she learned to play.
            “I have a younger brother (Austin). He was my biggest fan. He would come to my games and videotape me and I would do the same for him. We gave each other tips,” she said. “We also played a lot. I would usually outplay him, but he plays dirty.”
            Montoya had a high game of six points three times – vs. Rockland, Oakley and Glenns Ferry. She said her best came against Oakley. She said the Hornets were Raft River’s biggest rival.
            “I really, really wanted to win those games,” she said. “They were always ready to play us.”
            Coming into the season, she didn’t know what to expect. The Trojans had lost their best player (Hailey Greenwood), and the other players realized they had to step up. Montoya was asked to be one of three players to rotate at point guard, which meant learning new plays.
            It was a difficult start.
            “We had to learn to play together and, at first, it was confusing,” she said. “Our plays were hard. Coach would always keep pushing us and was always positive.
            “I liked bonding with the girls and playing the games. We really didn’t have much drama.”
            The only drama came at practice. Besides the plays, the Trojans had to handle the season with just 12 players. It became apparent that the girls had to be in good shape to remain active on the court. Montoya said she learned to dread practices.
            “It was good until the end,” she recalled. “Then coach would get his stopwatch and, when he did that, all of our hearts would stop.”
            The games, however, made up for it. Besides the Oakley wins, Montoya said she also had lasting memories of playing Hagerman, which was a much taller team. Twice in one game, Hagerman’s biggest player, Aly Sauer, fell on Montoya.
            “The second time, she rolled on me, but I kept getting up,” she said.
            Not surprisingly, that’s a good description of how the team felt. The Trojans didn’t make it to the state tournament this season, but it was still a year filled with fond memories.
            For Montoya, each bruise was a proud reminder.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Raft River basketball: Taylor Whitaker profile

In early April, I interviewed Taylor Whitaker and we talked about the Raft River girls basketball season. This is the article that will appear in the Trojans' 2011-12 yearbook.

Taylor Whitaker:

Her athletic ability and experience made her
the perfect person to take over at the point

By Bruce Smith
            A lot was expected of Taylor Whitaker in Raft River’s 2011-12 girls basketball season.
            She was a senior, and was asked to take the point guard position after Hailey Greenwood left. She knew she couldn’t replace Greenwood, but had to play her game instead. Fortunately, she was surrounded by friends and her younger sister, Taryn.
            “We really cared for each other. We began to work as a team,” she said. “I really liked playing with my little sister. She was also my friend.”
            Whitaker was expecting a lot this season. She was a three-sport athlete (volleyball, basketball and track) and, as a junior, her teams made it to state each time.
            In basketball, Raft River had an 18-9 record that year. The Trojans dropped their state tournament opener to Clearwater Valley, but rallied to beat Notus and Liberty Charter to win the consolation trophy. Whitaker said that meant a lot to the team.
            “We knew we were up there (at state) for a reason and wanted to bring back some hardware,” she said. “We were all excited to get that trophy.”
            When Greenwood left, Whitaker had to adjust her game as the team’s point guard. She focused more on passing. She averaged just 1.5 points per game, but was always involved in the offense. Mostly, she tried to get the ball to the team’s primary scorers, Echo Hansen and Wynter Holtman.
            The team progressed slowly, but began to find its groove. Unfortunately, bad news struck quickly. Whitaker sprained her ankle and missed three games and, at almost the same time, Taryn fractured her tibia and was done for the season.
            “I had been grooming her to replace Hailey, so losing her was a big loss,” said coach Garth Steed. “We only had 12 players and seven on the varsity, so we had to adjust pretty quickly.”
            Whitaker rehabbed her injured ankle during the Christmas holiday break. She returned Jan. 5 as Raft River took on Grace. She didn’t score a point, but her game was back on track as the Trojans won 59-58 on Hansen’s three-pointer at the buzzer.
            One week later, they whipped Glenns Ferry 44-32. Whitaker said that was the team’s best game of the season.
            “We beat them by quite a bit,” she said. “Our defense was better than it had been all year. We ran a 2-3 zone against them and their best player (Karli McHone) didn’t have any three-pointers.”
            Whitaker said her personal best games were home games against Declo and Hagerman. At Declo, she didn’t score, but had the play of the game when she blocked a shot that even made the home crowd cheer.
            “I knew the girl for some time and she was really surprised when I stuffed her,” she said. “We had a lot of fans there, but everybody was cheering.”
            Against Hagerman, Whitaker nailed a three-pointer at the buzzer to end the third quarter to give the Trojans some momentum. Raft River ended up losing that game, but that was the only trey made by any Trojan player other than Hansen.
            “It was a lucky shot,” Whitaker said, “but I’ll take it.”
            Another game Whitaker recalled well was each time the Trojans played Oakley. She said the Hornets were Raft River’s biggest rival and was proud to note they beat them both times, but it wasn’t easy.
            “They always played their best (against us). It was real intense,” she said. “The first time we played them, Wynter (Holtman) was at the (National Finals Rodeo) in Las Vegas, so we all had to step up. We worked really hard on our defense and shut them down.”
            After basketball, Whitaker competed on the track team. She was involved in several events, including the pole vault, where she had a high of 7-feet, 6-inches and won the district meet with a 7-0 effort. The state meet, however, didn’t go so well.
            She said she planned to continue her education by first attending the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls and earn a degree in the medical field.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Raft River basketball: 2011-12 season recap

In early April, I visited Raft River High School and spoke to coach Garth Steed and a group of basketball players about the girls' recent season. Here is the article that will appear in their first-ever yearbook.

A slower flow

Raft River lost its star player, but others developed
in time to make a respectable charge in league play
By Bruce Smith

            Success and Raft River girls basketball go hand-in-hand.
            There were high hopes for the Trojans again in 2011-12. The chance of another 1A state tournament berth took a hit when leading scorer Hailey Greenwood moved to Wyoming. However, it also gave others a chance to step up.
            The Trojans didn’t make it to state this year, but coach Garth Steed admitted there was a lot of growth. Raft River finished with a 10-12 record. The team finished tied for first place in the Snake River Conference South Division. A two-point loss to Hagerman in the district tournament ended the year, but didn’t dampen many spirits.
            “Hailey was our point guard. That was a huge loss for us,” said Steed. “We were one player from being a really good team. In 1A, one player can make a big difference.
            “We spent much of the season trying to become a new team,” he added. “We had some injuries and that hurt, and the league was pretty good, too.”
            While Greenwood was tearing it up in Wyoming (she helped her team to a 24-4 record and made the all-state team), the season started badly for Raft River. Three players alternated at point guard and they had to begin by facing area powers Dietrich, Richfield and Declo (who combined to finish 65-14 and Dietrich was a state champion). Steed said that helped prepare them well for
league play.
            “I like to play a tough non-league schedule,” he said. “We played most of them really well and we learned right away just where we were.”
            Echo Hansen made the most of it. Like the rest of the team, she struggled early but recovered. Hansen also had to handle much of the opponent’s defensive focus. Hansen still averaged 16.7 points per game, was honored twice by the local media, made the all-league team and was invited to a postseason all-star game.
            Hansen was Raft River’s only real outside-scoring threat. She hit 30 points twice, and her three-pointer at the buzzer against Grace was the team’s best highlight of the year.
            “That was a great event to watch,” said Steed. “To see the crowd and kids celebrate after that win is what I’ll always remember.”
            Steed said Raft River’s record didn’t concern him because he saw constant improved. He thought the team’s best effort came a week later. The Trojans treasured the momentum the Grace victory created and local support was at its peak.
            Their next game attracted another big crowd, as well as a reporter and photographer from the Twin Falls Times-News.
            This time, Wynter Holtman scorched the nets for 18 points and Hansen had 13. The defense, led by Sammie Montoya, was the real story. She put the clamps on the Pilots’ Karli McHone and that led to the 44-32 win.
            Holtman, a junior, averaged 12.1 ppg and was among the team’s top rebounders. After Christmas, she really came on, scoring in double figures each time. She also was an all-league player.
            “Wynter really stepped up, especially when I was having a bad game,” said Hansen. “She and I had been friends a long time and we played well together. She helped us win a lot of games.”
            Montoya, Taylor Whitaker and Sydney Hitt also had their share of good games. Steed said Megan Jones, Marka Baker and Taryn Whitaker came off the bench and played well.
            The Trojans won five of six games at one point and went into district following a narrow 38-36 loss at Hagerman. Despite a 5-1 league record, they earned a tough draw in the first round at district but thrilled the home crowd again with a 31-30 win over Shoshone.
            Overall, the Trojans were able to get over the loss of Greenwood because too many good things happened without her.
            “I would have loved to see what we would have been like with her, but that’s all over now,” Steed said. “The girls came together this season and blended well. We’ve got a good program here. We’ll learn from this and get ready for next year.”

Raft River basketball: Echo Hansen profile

In early April, I visited Malta, Idaho, and visited with Raft River basketball sensation Echo Hansen, who was one of the school's best student-athletes. Here is the article that will appear in her team's basketball yearbook.

Echo Hansen:

Her family’s athletic tradition lived on
and gave Trojans the offense it needed

By Bruce Smith
            At the start of Raft River’s 2011-12 girls basketball season, it was easy for Echo Hansen to wonder, “what if …?”
            Her best friend, Hailey Greenwood, was gone. She had moved with her family to Afton, Wyo. When she left, so did Raft River’s state championship hopes.
            Hansen and Greenwood had helped Raft River to a 20-7 record, the South Division regular-season title and a berth into the 1A Division 1 state tournament.
            When Greenwood left, a lot was responsibility was placed on Hansen. She was already a 4.0 student and a three-sport athlete. When the basketball season started, it didn’t take long for her to step up.
            “Every game, it was somebody’s goal to shut me down,” she said. “It was still my best season. “It would have been better if Hailey had been here, but I had a lot of fun. We were young but a lot of girls got experience and they will be good.”
            As the 10th of 16 children, she always had to deal with competition. She started playing basketball at age 6 and, by the time she was a ninth grader, showed she might be a special athlete.
            “I played volleyball because it was fun and I competed in track because it was expected of me, but I always loved basketball.”
            Track, however, is where she stood out. Shortly after the basketball season, she competed well in the hurdles and sprint relay and earned a scholarship to Utah Valley University, where she expected to join her older sister, Sally.
            “Until this year, my best memory  was competing at the state meet with her (as a freshman),” she said. “I think I was the only freshman there and that was a special time.”
            Her fondest memories this year were on the court. She also made the varsity basketball team as a freshman and, in her career, ended up going to the state tournament three straight times.
            As a 5-foot-9 senior, she was easily Raft River’s leading scorer, averaging 16.7 points per game. She had a high game of 33 points in the Trojans’ biggest win, a 59-58 victory over Grace. There was also a four-game stretch in early December when she averaged 24.2 ppg and that led to her being selected athlete of the week by KMVT Television and by the Twin Falls Times-News.
            “We depended on Echo the entire season,” said Raft River coach Garth Steed. "Echo was our ‘2’ guard and Wynter (Holtman) was our post and they worked well together. They carried us and everyone else pitched in.”
            “We had a lot of potential,” said Hansen. ”Our record wasn’t that great, but it was great to see the crowds at our home games. They really supported us.”
            She said her best memory was against Grace. Her 30-point effort against the Grizzlies four weeks earlier was not quite enough. With another big home crowd, she concluded the best-scoring night of her career with a three-pointer at the buzzer that lifted the Trojans to a 59-58 win.
            “Coach told me to take the ball and go,” Hansen recalled. “I pulled up and thought it was a ‘two’ (pointer) but then I looked at the scoreboard and it read 59-58. Then all the players were hugging me and I realized we had won.”
            That victory allowed the Trojans to tie Grace for the South Division title. At the district tournament, Hansen also scored eight of Raft River’s final nine points in its 31-30 win over Shoshone in the first round. That would be the team’s final moment of glory as it dropped consecutive road games to Glenns Ferry and Hagerman to end the season.
            Hansen was later named first team all-conference and the Times-News put her on its all-area second team. She also played in a postseason all-star game.
            All of those experiences helped the “what if ..?” thoughts fade. And, as her athletic career continues, they will likely fade more. At Raft River, however, she will always be remembered well – at least until another member of the Hansen clan arrives.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Glenns Ferry basketball: Cassi Garza profile

In early April, I interviewed Cassi Garza of Glenns Ferry. She had one of the most interesting stories to tell. Below is the article that will appear in the team's girls basketball yearbook.

Cassi Garza:

Pivotal decision to be part of the team
resulted in long-lasting memories

By Bruce Smith

            It’s easy to be impressed by Cassi Garza.
            She said her primary goal in high school was academics. She was one of the smartest kids in Glenns Ferry. Her goal was to study pre-med in college, and ended up earning a scholarship to the University of Idaho.
            However, there was an athletic part of her, too.
            In the summers, she was a lifeguard at the Glenns Ferry pool. She was studious, but also liked to stay active. One of the biggest decisions she made in her high-school career took place on a cold day in November.
            Garza had just finished a successful season on the school’s girls soccer team. When basketball approached, her friends asked her to be part of the team.
            At first, she compromised. She asked to be the basketball team’s scorekeeper, but it didn’t feel satisfying.
            “I realized it just wasn’t right,” she said. “After the second game, I told (coach) Kelli (McHone) I wanted to play. I had known some of the plays, but I had to learn the others very quickly.”
            The rest is history.
            McHone quickly got her a uniform, and she was a regular at practice, joining her friends again and her sister, Melissa, a freshman. McHone also found a new scorekeeper. Within two weeks, Garza started becoming another key part of the Pilots’ success.
            “I didn’t know what to expect,” Garza said. “Every game was exciting.”
            Garza had extensive playing time and ended up being able to include athletics and academics in her high-school career. She maintained her high grade-point average, and followed basketball with a fine softball season.
            She may never play competitive sports again. But, during this time, she accomplished all that she could.
            Physically, Garza didn’t stand out. She was 5-foot-5 and slender, but showed an aptitude in athletics that was as good as her academics.
            She said she developed an attitude in soccer. She only began playing as a junior and decided to go “all out.”
            “I got really intense,” she recalled. “I decided it was either all-out or nothing.”
            She also learned a lot about herself.
            “You could say I react well,” she said. “In soccer, I was the goalkeeper and I was the catcher in softball. I just adjust to the game that’s being played.”
            Her attitude was noticed immediately. In her first game, she scored six points in an important 47-36 victory over Hagerman. She played in 22 games and averaged 2.1 points per game. Her best effort was a 10-point, 5-rebound performance at Challis, when she took over for Ellee Bryant, who was hurt.
            In most games, she came off the bench and provided necessary depth.
            “We ended up needing her,” said McHone. “When she joined the team, I don’t think she expected to play as much as she did.”
            For Garza, it was a memorable year. The Pilots soccer team reached the state tournament and, for the first time in 15 years, the girls basketball team did, too.
            “I wasn’t much of a shooter, but I could rebound pretty well,” she said. “I look back on it now and it was awesome to be part of two teams that made it to state.”
            Garza had another good game in Glenns Ferry’s district tournament game. After earning the top seed from the North Division, the Pilots took on Hansen and she scored seven points in the 63-41 win.
            About the only disappointment was how it ended. She injured her ankle in Glenns Ferry’s tournament opener against Prairie and played sparingly after that.
            She still cheered vividly for her teammates and joined in the celebration following the win over Hagerman in the second round.
            “It was a fun year,” she said. “We had our goals and we ended up accomplishing what we wanted. I’ll never forget it.”

Monday, July 9, 2012

Glenns Ferry basketball: Jade Gorrell profile

In early April, I interviewed Glenns Ferry's Jade Gorrell, who excelled in basketball and rodeo. Here is the article that will appear in this year's Glenns Ferry girls basketball yearbook.

Jade Gorrell:

Her competitiveness and athletic skills
led to basketball and rodeo success

By Bruce Smith

             Jade Gorrell’s high-school career was a busy one.
            After growing up in Glenns Ferry, she moved from Gooding in seventh grade but returned after her sophomore year and instantly became an important part of the Pilots’ basketball team.
            She wasn’t tall (5-foot-2), but she was quick, athletic, competitive and sported a feisty attitude. Those traits played a role in almost everything she did.
            When she wasn’t on the court, she was active in other school activities.
            And when she was away from school? That’s easy. She was probably on a horse.
            “I love rodeo,” she said. “I do everything. Last summer, I couldn’t go to the Walla Walla (Wash.) tournament with the team because I was getting ready for state. Basketball was fun, but rodeo is what I do best.”
            Basketball, however, is a team sport and Gorrell was needed. She played in every game as a junior as Glenns Ferry turned around its program with a 16-8 record. She averaged 7.0 points per game and had a high of 15 points against Castleford.
            She moved into the starting lineup as a senior. Her average increased to 7.9 ppg, and so did her importance. Gorrell, Karli McHone and Sara Arellano gave the Pilots an impressive scoring combination and prevented opponents from focusing on a single player.
            “Last year was exciting at the beginning, but was depressing at the end,” he said. “Our season (record) wasn’t as good (this year), but we made it to state. That was always our goal after last season ended. It was a fun ride.”
             Gorrell was all over the court and was given the team’s “hustle” award at its postseason banquet.
            She easily led the team in steals and was second in assists and rebounding. She had 19 points against Oakley, 15 vs. Shoshone and scored 12 points in the Pilots’ 62-49 victory over Cascade that put them into the 1A Division 1 state tournament.
            “There were a couple of games where we got a lot of points turnovers and that gave us a lot of momentum,” Gorrell said. “It allowed us to pull off some victories.
            “Cascade was an important game,” she added. “They had a girl who posted me up. She could dribble with her left hand. We had the lead the whole game, though, and coach took us (the starters) all out at the end.”
            Gorrell said she didn’t feel like she played as well at state, but it was still a highlight. She had some good memories and was proud of the team’s accomplishments.
            “I remember the (public address) announcer and he was the best I had ever heard,” she said. “It (the tournament) was different than what we had experienced in our tiny town. It was great to win there. Afterward, we had some hop in our walk.”
            The lowlight? That’s easy. Playing against her former Gooding teammates seemed surreal. In the first game – at Gooding – she picked up three quick fouls and eventually fouled out in the Pilots’ 55-40 loss. Three weeks later, though, she had eight points, four steals and two assists in a 61-55 victory.
            “I knew all the girls there (on the team),” she said. “The second time we played them was a lot more fun.”
            Gorrell remained active after the season. She was a big fan of the Glenns Ferry boys team, and cheered them on as they won state. She also traded in her tennis shoes once again for cowboy boots. In the future, the boots are likely to get more use.

About Me

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