While driving home Saturday night, after a hard fought spirited end had come to the Emery High Girls Basketball season, I was reflecting on the success this years girls have had over the years. I thought that I would like to share with you the Emery County community thanks for what you have done and let you know how much these girls with your help have accomplished.
I met most of the team when they were in third grade. The good people of Emery County run a Junior Jazz program and since my daughter was in third grade, I was given the chore by my wife to coach one team. Between Castle Dale and Orangeville there were enough players to make one team of third grade girls. That team had many of this year's seniors playing on it. We played against Junior Jazz teams from Huntington, Cleveland and other towns and teams from Emery County. Most all of the other girls that are on the Emery High team were playing in this Junior Jazz league. Emery Junior Jazz and those who organize and direct it need to be thanked for the spark that they provided in these young girls. They began their love of basketball when they were young.
Several of the young girls were ball girls for the Emery High School team during those years. They had to quit when Utah High School Activities said that the insurance would not cover them if they were injured on the floor. They still had a love for the game and came to support older Emery Girls Basketball teams by watching them play.
The girls continued to play Junior Jazz until junior high where the junior high coaches began to work with the girls. Dave Thompson, Laura Barnett, Eric Mortenson, Lee Moss and others I am sure worked with the young girls of this years team. The girls still loved basketball. During the spring Dennis Pearson coached and the girls' parents would travel with the girls every Saturday for a couple of months to participate in the Color Country League. At that time the only team they could not beat was North Sevier (this year's 2A State champion). Emery girls did give North Sevier one of its two losses this season and did it on North Sevier's home court. The only other loss by North Sevier this season was to Canyon View (3A State Champs). The girls also beat North Sevier last year for the first time.
During the spring and summers these young girls also participated whenever given the opportunity to in basketball camps and tournaments. The high school girl's team sponsored many opportunities for the girls. During this time Coach Kevin Wilson from CNCC and Southern Oregon University and Coach Dexter Irvins from Dixie State College spent a week with the girls in our own Spartan Center. These two coaches came for about a 7-year span of time and the girls were always willing to participate. The girls played in several AAU tournaments in Salt Lake when they were 14; Ty Jensen coached them in the 15 and under championships that spring and the only team they couldn't beat drove themselves to the games.
The girls played in tournaments hosted by CEU most summers. They played in Snow College and SUU tournaments. They played in Dixie Spring tournaments, Summer Games and every time they were given an opportunity to play. The girls would come to the fitness center at Emery High in the summer and stay and play basketball after they had lifted weights. The opportunities made available by the school and community were enormous.
I know Coach Bob Wagoner gave many weeks every summer to these girls to travel with and coach them in summer leagues. Shanae Butler gave of her time also during the time she coached.
Coach Steven Gordon and his staff have done the same as they came into coaching this team two years ago. The summer tournament and leagues were still important to these new coaches.
The senior girls wanted to play in the Utah Summer Games during the past summer. They organized and put together a team with the help of parents and community once again. Shane Pitchforth took his turn to coach the girls. There are so many people who influenced and helped these girls.
When the seniors on this team were in ninth grade, Shala Pitchforth, Ashley Hansen, Tahna Merrell, Alexis Swasey, Natalee Hanson, Callie Seely all decided to tryout for the high school team. The impact that they made was tremendous. Emery had a heart breaking State Tournament game that year with Park City.
After some difficult officiating, Emery found the last five minutes of the game being played by three freshmen a sophomore and one senior. These same girls as ninth graders helped bring the team back to within one basket of winning and everyone knew they were going to be special. The sophomore year of the current senior's season was a shock. Two juniors who were going to be counted on did not try out.
In the end with sickness we lost another two junior girls we were counting on. Add Alexis Swasey's first knee injury there were only 14 girls left to play three games, sophomore, junior varsity and varsity competition. I remember asking the girls in practice after we had lost these players if they wanted me to ask some of the girls who had not come to tryouts if they would come back and help us. Ashley Hansen summed up the attitude of this bunch of girls.
Ashley said, "Coach, they chose not to play, we can do it with out them." Jodie Lundell had joined them as a ninth grader and we fought hard through a long season. Many times after a game I was told how fun it was to watch this group of girls. Most people said, "They play hard and never quit." It ended up being one of my favorite seasons because of the development in each player.
Natalee Hanson was rising as a star and the other girls had started to find their strengths and how to work with one another. The community, parental and school support was great. A team that was made up of 13 sophomores and one freshman had competed for a season; it was a tough year on a varsity level. The win loss column suffered but the girls and skills improved.
This year the varsity team only had six seniors left; I would like to thank those other seven sophomore players who helped us through that season two years ago. The girls played basketball because they loved it. They worked hard to get better and had great drive to be the best. You would find them in the concession stands at all boys games earning money that paid for trips and uniforms, the girls loved the game and it showed at all times.
Another strength that these girls offered was the ability to accept younger players to play with them with out destroying the chemistry of the team. It started with Jodie Lundell and then they added Camille Fehlberg, Meagan Pearson, Rachel Rasmussen all important parts of this years varsity team. These younger players became an integral part of the team.
The traditions that Emery High School Girls Basketball has built were started by players many years ago. This group of players continued to be good examples to future players. With Alexis Swasey being named an Academic All-State player and Ashley Hansen and Tahna Merrell and Alexis Swasey receiving Academic All-Region awards the tradition of being a great student athlete is being carried on. Some only see the outcome of a one-point loss in the championship game of the State Tournament.
In this game, winning or losing could have been as simple as a no call from an official. It could have been the phantom foul that never happened. It could have been the loss of a key player because of fouls. It could have been Natalee Hanson's knee injury. It could have been the confidence a player has at a given time based on coach's choices.
In the game of basketball there is always an excuse, someone to take the blame, but these girls understand that it was their work and desire that carried them; it was their game to win. They started fighting for this opportunity when they were young.
They would have been pleased to have won the game; it would have made us all happy. I just hope that they understand that the joy, the satisfaction they should have has come in the journey. You can see it has been a community effort, along with parents and coaches to help prepare these girls to excel in basketball.
I for one would like to thank you all, from Junior Jazz organizers, the fans at the games, cheerleaders, drill teams, all the parents and coaches who have worked with these girls.
Now as a parent I wish to thank the community, parents, teachers and coaches at all levels that have helped my daughter. I would like to thank those who helped build my daughter up, who helped her to gain confidence, those who showed her they cared about her in school and in sports.
I would like to thank her teammates; they lifted her up and helped her become a better person from the experience of being an Emery High School basketball player. For 15 years I worked with the girls basketball players at Emery High School. I can honestly say that I am a much better person because of them.