High school basketball: Wasatch Academy wins first state championship in 136 years
RICHFIELD — The fourth meeting between Wasatch Academy and Liahona was the most lopsided game between the region rivals this season.
It did not, however, feel like an easy win to Tigers coach Geno Morgan or his players, who claimed the first basketball state championship for the oldest high school in Utah on Saturday at the Sevier Valley Center.
"The Rich game wore me out," said Morgan after Wasatch Academy defeated Liahona 84-47 in front of a raucous crowd. "I might have gotten two hours of sleep. So I appreciate the guys taking it easy on me tonight."
The game was tied midway through the first quarter at 13, but the Tigers ramped up the defensive effort and slowed down one of Liahona's most prolific scorers, Brayden Facemyer.
"Just defense," Morgan said about how the Tigers dominated the game. "We talked about it in the locker room and I asked them, 'Is that really the best defense you can play?' And they said no, came out and took it up a notch. That's our biggest rival. I don't have to really give a big speech or anything. They just go out and get after them."
The Tigers held Facemyer to nine points, and only senior Brandon Nichols was in double figures with 27 points. Nichols kept the Warriors in the game with near-perfect foul shooting and his ability to drive to the basket. His effort was relentless, as he also grabbed eight rebounds.
Warriors coach Jeremy Long was emotional about the seniors he graduates, but proud of how hard his players worked.
"The season was great," said Long. "They fought. We told them this is a microcosm for life. They're amazing."
The title game belonged to the Tigers, especially 1A Tournament co-MVP Jarryn Skeete, who finished with 37 points, four assists and two steals.
Senior Evaldas Aniulis had a monster game in his final high school contest, scoring 13 points, grabbing 13 rebounds and dishing out 15 assists.
"He's probably one of the toughest kids I've coached," said Morgan, his shirt wet from the water cooler being dumped on his back during the celebration. "He is the kind of kid who makes a coach's life very easy. I wish he was a freshman."
Morgan said he hoped the title would help put Wasatch Academy "on the map" and he credited his administration for being passionate about the school's mission.
"I've only been here for two years, but my boss — our head master — he's been working for 25 years to keep our school open for any kid who wants to come here, regardless of race, color, creed or economic background" said Morgan. "I just love his passion for the kids, and he sold me on it."
It is a passion that extends to all to the students at the 136-year old Mt. Pleasant boarding school.
"Our (students) are amazing," said Morgan. "We go to some hostile gyms, and we take a fan bus. There are probably 30 of them, and it sounds like 60."
The student body is as diverse as the team, hailing from 33 different counties and nearly two dozen states.
"Some of the European kids, some are soccer fans and they get crazy," he laughed. "They bring that atmosphere to our team. This is just as much for them as it is for us."
Aniulis said he couldn't really believe they'd won the title yet.
"It's an amazing feeling," he said. "I might remember this in 10 or 20 years. It's hard to believe. It's a great feeling."
1A All-Tournament Team
Co- MVPs: Jarryn Skeete and Evaldas Aniulis, Wasatch Academy
Fred Krajacic, Wasatch Academy
Brandon Nichols, Liahona
Brayden Facemyer, Liahona
Kayden Calder, Rich
Cody Groll, Rich
Zach Paige, ICS
Wes Poulsen, ICS