Without star, North Summit still eyeing state title | ParkRecord.com

Without star, North Summit still eyeing state title

Braves have lost just one game all season

North Summits Hunter Vernon goes up for a layup during the teams first-round victory over Millard High School, 55-38, at Orem High School on Friday. The Braves have their eyes set on winning the UHSAA 2A State Championship this weekend, despite Vernon suffering an injury in the last game.

The North Summit girls' basketball team is currently in the midst of one of its best basketball seasons in recent memory. With a record of 21-1, the Braves have waltzed their way through their regular-season schedule with relative ease. Their only loss was by two points to rival South Summit.

Two points is all that separates North Summit from a perfect season, but that's not what matters to head coach Jerre Holmes and company.

"We're going down [to the Sevier Valley Center] to win the tournament," Holmes said. "I'd be selling the girls short if we did anything less than that. That's our goal."

The Braves were the favorite heading into the UHSAA 2A State Tournament just a week ago. They were playing at the top of their game and it seemed as if the stars would align for them for the first time since 1986, the last time North Summit secured a state title (though it was at the 1A level back then).

The Braves still have a chance to take the title, but their odds took a significant hit when one of the team's leaders, Hunter Vernon, was ruled out for the rest of the state playoffs with a torn ACL in her right knee. She suffered the injury in North Summit's 55-38 win over Millard in the first round of the state tourney.

Vernon averaged 10.5 points, 8.4 rebounds and 3.9 steals per game, as she did a little bit of everything for North Summit. The injury is the second ACL tear of Vernon's young sporting career (she tore her left one last year while playing volleyball).

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"We're just heartbroken for her," Holmes said. "Just the unfairness of having to have to go through it twice. That's how life is. Because she's a competitor, she wants us to do well, so we're still going forward and we believe we still have a good team. We have a lot of good players and obviously we'll miss her, but the focus is moving forward."

A team, however, doesn't get to 21-1 based solely on the skills of one player. Vernon will be missed, but there are a handful of players that could rise to the occasion and help carry out the mission for the Braves.

Elise Richins averages an even 10 points per game, while Kennady McQueen averages 9.6 per game. Both of them are expected to exceed their averages the next game.

Additionally, Holmes is also coming up with strategies that will make up for Vernon's absence. Vernon will be missed the most on the defensive end and on the glass, as her long arms and quick reflexes were perfect for both aspects of the game. Holmes plans on emphasizing rebounding the ball, as well as working on certain defenses that will still be effective sans Vernon.

"We're going to focus a lot this week on boxing people out," Holmes said. "We have other girls who get a lot of rebounds, too, so it's just a matter of refocusing on the little things. … If [Vernon's injury] did anything positive for us, it'll probably cause us to be a little more focused."

The Braves will need to have extra focus with the North Sevier Wolves standing across the court from them on Thursday evening. The two teams have squared off once this season on Dec. 16, in which North Summit won by just two points.

The Wolves finished the regular season on a hot streak, winning 10 of their final 12 games, including their first-round 68-28 win over Rowland Hall. The only losses they experienced in that stretch were to the hands of Emery, who also only has one loss this year (conveniently to North Summit).

"They're a real good basketball team," Holmes said of North Sevier. "They played for the championship last year and didn't lose anybody, so they've got the whole team back. They're loaded with experience."

Without Vernon, any game from here on out will be a tough one for the Braves, Holmes said. But knowing that they've been here before will certainly aid in their quest for their first state title in over 30 years.

"We've had some injury along the way. We've had some illness along the way," Holmes said. "There's been a lot of games where we didn’t have all of our players. It isn't new to us. We're saddened for [Vernon] and we're sad for us, but we're not going down there with any excuses."

Tip-off between North Summit and North Sevier is scheduled for 4:10 p.m. on Thursday evening at the Sevier Valley Center.