High school girls basketball: Timpanogos earns redemption, 4A state title over Springville
Tom Smart, Deseret News
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TAYLORSVILLE — The Timpanogos Timberwolves wanted to know what it felt like to be the state champions.
Several seniors on the team had been to the finals before as sophomores when the T-wolves took on Springville in the 2010 championship game, but went home heartbroken and empty-handed.
They were back at Salt Lake Community College on Saturday with a redeeming chance at the title, and this time the T-wolves refused to let it slip out of their grasp.
Timpanogos took on Springville once again, and a 62-47 victory was a dream come true.
Rather than leaving with heartbreak, they would be the team to hoist this year's state title trophy and forever remember the day they cut down the nets among their teammates and best friends.
"Amazing," senior point guard Mercedes Riggs kept saying of the experience. "How do you even express it, winning the state championship? Something you've been working for this whole year, and really for me, my whole life."
Riggs' high school career couldn't have ended much better as she had a game-high 19 points in the championship contest. She fired a buzzer beating shot over two defenders at halftime from well beyond the 3-point arc, and though she swears it was lucky, the 3 gave the T-wolves a crucial seven-point advantage to open the second half.
"She's our leader," Timpanogos coach Kawika Akina said. "That's what we expect out of her, and I think she played an awesome, awesome game. I'm going to miss her next year. She's a tough kid."
A tough kid indeed.
Riggs fractured her jaw a few weeks ago against Maple Mountain, losing a tooth and requiring work on a few others.
"It's painful, but with adrenaline you can't even tell," she said smiling. Riggs' tough mentality is something the entire Timpanogos team shares as they faced an extremely competitive preseason schedule and battled their way through one of the best regions in Class 4A.
"They persevered through all things," Akina said. "Injuries at the beginning, in the middle, and the end of the year." He noted just how "special" the ride has been. "It's just unbelievable how the girls came together and how they bonded. It was awesome."
The Timberwolves' desire was apparent as several girls stepped up and fulfilled their roles. Eternity Galeai, a contributing factor in the paint, was subbed out with four fouls and Kailey Avery rose to the occasion in her place with six points.
Jamaica Christensen, who has proven to be a crucial offensive component all tournament, finished with 12 points and took a game-altering charge in the opening minute of the fourth quarter.
The offensive foul was called on Springville star Malia Nawahine, taking her out of the game with her fifth foul and hindering the Red Devils' offensive chances immensely. The junior tallied 18 points and seven rebounds prior to fouling out.
"It was huge for us," Akina said. "She's one of the best kids in the state and a big-time scorer. I'm sad for her, but it was lot better to have her not on the court."
Nawahine will surely be a big-time contributor next year for Springville and the loss is hardly the end of the road. In fact, the Red Devils have an incredibly young roster. They will return all five of the team's leading scorers next season.
Sophomore Savannah Park — one of those leaders — played a huge role in the amazing playoff run and scored nine points in the loss.
Timpanogos' dream finish gave coach Akina the second championship of his career. He earned one at Timpview before taking over at Timpanogos in 2010. Riggs was quick to attribute a large portion of the team's success to his great coaching and love for the game.
"He has been great for our program," she said. "His passion for the game really drove us through this tournament."
Under his direction, the 'Wolves finished with an overall record of 19-6 and achieved what every team dreams of.
"It has been a special, special ride," Akina said.
4A All-Tournament team
MVP — Mercedes Riggs,
Eternity Galeai, Timpanogos
Malia Nawahine, Springville
Savannah Park, Springville
Karlee Kartchner, Mountain Crest
Miquelle Askew, Skyline