After coming up short that past two seasons, the North Summit girls basketball team are three wins away from elusive state title
As the No. 1 seed, the North Summit girls basketball team have set themselves so far apart from the rest of the teams in their class that the RPI gap between the Braves and second-seeded Millard is larger than the gap between Millard and No. 9 seed Altamont.
So when the 22-1 Braves walk into the Sevier Valley Center at Snow College in Richfield on Thursday, they’ll walk in as the undisputed favorite to capture the Class 2A state championship.
But don’t ask North Summit if it believes that or not.
The Braves begin the quarterfinals on Thursday against No. 8 Enterprise (14-10), with tipoff set for 5:50 p.m.
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It doesn’t matter if North Summit is the perennial favorite or not, it knows firsthand how difficult winning a state title can be even if it’s the top seed.
“Every team we now play, the closer we get to the end, there are teams that are good quality teams that will go to state thinking they have a chance to win it all,” said Braves coach Jerre Holmes. “We know Enterprise well, having seen them the last two years, and know they’re a good team. Kanab is also a good team while Wasatch Academy and Millard will be tough teams if we get to the end.”
To win a state championship, the victor must win three games in three days — so skill and talent aren’t the only things aiding in a title. According to Holmes, a little luck is always needed. … And the Braves haven’t been lucky that past two years despite being higher seeds than their opponents.
Two years ago, North Summit fell to Enterprise 44-42 in the quarterfinals before rebounding with a win over Wasatch Academy for fifth place. Last season, the Braves made it to the semifinals before blowing an eight-point lead heading in the fourth quarter, falling 58-49 to Kanab in overtime, ending their quest for a state championship before finishing third with a victory over Enterprise.
But the way the Braves lost last season, in what was one of the worst-played games under Holmes, he admits it still eats at him and he’s ready to move on from that loss.
“I’ve told them, ‘I don’t know how much you still think about how last season ended but I wake up at 2 a.m. still thinking about it,’” Holmes said. “If we win this year, it won’t erase the fact that we got our heartbroken last year. … It won’t ever fix that. This is a new year and winning it all will certainly make me feel a lot better.”
What separates this team from others in the past is that Holmes believes he has found the perfect combination of a star player to pair with team depth to overcome the three games in three days curse that has bellied the Braves in the past.
Senior Kennady McQueen is the obvious catalyst for North Summit. She’s one of the best players in the country and the top girls basketball recruit in the state of Utah, checking in at No. 60 as a four-star prospect in ESPN’s Top 100.
But she struggled mightily with one of her worst games of her high school career last year against Kanab in the semifinals. Although she finished with 20 points, she went 0-for-11 from three-point territory while finishing with four turnovers.
And it wasn’t just McQueen who struggled. No other Brave finished with double-digit points, as the team collectively shot 33% from the field and 1-for-17 from beyond the arc in the loss.
That’s why Holmes believes this season is different. He believes his girls have the depth to overcome a rough game from McQueen, even if they are few and far between. But he also credits McQueen for getting her teammates involved throughout the season, making her teammates better and not doing it all herself.
“They can try to minimize her scoring, but they can never minimize her playmaking for her teammates,” Holmes said of McQueen. “I really thought we would see a box-1 defense but that hasn’t happened one time. I truly think it’s because her teammates are good players. … We aren’t a one-man show and teams know that about us.”
Senior Gracie Waterson has played well in the post as a complement to McQueen, averaging 11 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. Junior Hadley Richins is averaging 8.8 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.9 steals while Marci Richins is averaging 6.9 points and 8.9 rebounds per game.
More than depth, Holmes believes the conditioning his team has gone through from the offseason to now will also be a vital point in advancing and winning.
“Our conditioning will play a big role and it’s something I’m very confident in with our team” Holmes said. “I tell them all the time how important it will be, and I think that’s what helped push them through it all. We condition harder than anyone else. … And I know we are conditioned enough to get through those three days.”
Anything can happen over the next three days that can keep North Summit from its ultimate goal; a bad shooting game, turnovers, an injury or illness.
But one thing Holmes has old his team is that its defense will never falter. So with good defense and a little bit of luck, come Saturday night around 7 p.m., the Braves could be the last team standing.
“It all boils down to three days and some luck,” Holmes said. “We can’t control everything. … But what we can control is our effort and intensity on defense. We are ready for this, so it’s time to go out there and do it.”
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It’s going to be at least another month before Summit County’s high school athletes have any chance of getting onto the field again.