5A girls high school basketball: Warriors exceed expectations again
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
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TAYLORSVILLE — As the Weber Warriors prepared for their semifinal game against Riverton on Friday, their coach asked them a question.
"I asked the seniors before the game, 'Have any of you dreamed of playing for a state title?'" head coach Rick Stoeckl said after the Warriors defeated Riverton 50-42 in a thrilling 5A semifinal Friday at Salt Lake Community College. "None of them had even thought about it."
So now the dream they didn't dare to dream is actually coming true.
"This group is just special," said Stoeckl, wiping tears from his eyes. "This group of seniors worked so hard."
And that hard work translated into a chance to take on region rival and top-ranked Syracuse for the state championship on Saturday. It is the first time Weber has played for a girls basketball championship in school history.
Part of the reason the players didn't spend a lot of time day dreaming about competing in that title game was because last year expectations were high and coming up short was painful.
"I think we talked about it too much last year," said Stoeckl. "We didn't talk about state; we didn't talk about a region title. We just talked about each game and improving every day."
Those improvements led to a third-place finish in Region 1 and an even more impressive tournament run.
Friday might have been the toughest test as the Warriors battled a Riverton team that just wouldn't quit. Riverton was led by Jamie Smith who scored 11 points, while Morganne Campbell added seven points, two assists and three steals. Whitney Saunders had another solid outing with nine points and seven rebounds.
"Absolutely tough," he said of the game. "Hats off to them because they were down and they came back. That trap is tough, and we didn't handle it well at times." Part of the reason the team was able to handle Riverton's pressure was senior Erica Olpin and junior Erin Reichle. The two looked calm and confident throughout the game, but especially down the stretch when Olpin had to hit 6-of-6 free throws to keep Weber ahead.
"She's such a good free throw shooter," said Stoeckl. "I knew she'd make them."
Olpin had a sensational offensive outing with 23 points, including three 3-pointers.
Reichle added eight points and five rebounds and was key in helping the Warriors break the Riverton trap.
"Individually, they're really great players," said Stoeckl of Olpin and Reichle. "But together, well, they're probably the best guard tandem in the state."
While Reichle said she always knew this year's team was a title contender, Olpin admits she did not.
"It's incredible that we got this far," said Olpin, whose eyes were red from crying after the victory. "Nobody expected this. We got to prove everybody wrong."
Including their own occasional self-doubt.
"I never thought we'd get this far," she said, tears returning to her eyes. "It's so amazing how far we've come. It's really a dream come true."