This was our goal. What our record was, even if we never won, this is what mattered. And we did it. —Makenlee Williams, Syracuse
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TAYLORSVILLE — Z drills are like the secret ingredient in an award-winning recipe.
The Syracuse girls basketball team acknowledges the dreaded conditioning drill is the key to their ability to play relentless, stifling defense, but they aren't willing to reveal just exactly what it is.
"We can't let out our secret," said Brittney Martin, who earned All-Tournament MVP honors behind an 18 point, six assist, seven steal and eight rebound performance that helped the Titans earn their second title in three years with a 63-50 win over Weber. "It sucks. Let's just say that."
It may be dreaded more by opponents from now on than it is by the Titans. The players admit it is conditioning that enables them to play the up-tempo style that helped them overcome a talented Weber squad for the third time this season. The win on Saturday at Salt Lake Community college caps a 22-0 season. And for Martin, who has started all four years of her high school career, it means she finishes with an impressive 89-5 record.
"I was a little puzzled," said Martin when asked about the accomplishment. "That's like a bomb record for four years of play. That just shows how hard we work and how hard the coaches push us. It's just effort and heart."
Makenlee Williams, also a senior, said the girls didn't talk about their astounding record because being undefeated was never their goal.
"This was our goal," said Williams, who had just two points, but grabbed six rebounds and five assists. "What our record was, even if we never won, this is what mattered. And we did it."
And they did it in spectacular fashion.
The 5A title game was a thriller for the first half. Back and forth with Weber chipping away at the Titan lead until Syracuse guard Natasha Monroe hit her only field goal of the half right at the buzzer that signaled the end of the second quarter.
"That's a big shot," said Syracuse head coach Rob Reisbeck. "They'd battled back, took the lead and then she hits a huge baseline jumper."
Halftime in the Syracuse locker room, however, was not pleasant despite a 26-25 lead. The Warriors had held Williams scoreless and Martin to just seven points.
"We weren't real happy at halftime," said Reisbeck. "They weren't real happy either — with their performance. We challenged them to step up and play Syracuse basketball."
Courtney Starks, who had her second double-double of the tournament with 19 points and 13 rebounds, said she was angry.
"I wasn't nervous, I was mad," she said. "My plan was to go out and do as much as I could, and even if I was tired, keep going. … We weren't flying around like we should have been in the first half."
Added Abby Call, who finished with 13 points, "They made us realize that we needed to come out and give it everything we've got. I wasn't worried because our team has a lot of trust in each other."
Williams, who was hampered by foul trouble, said she was frustrated, as well.
"This is what happened last time, and we lost," she said. So the teammates gathered and committed to playing the second half the way they knew they could.
Their energy was immediately different in the third quarter and they outscored the Warriors 20-8. It was a lead they would never relinquish.
"We just started doing what we've done all year, and that's play in-your-face defense," said Reisbeck. "We needed to push the tempo. In the first half, we slowed the ball down way too much. We just got out and ran. That's when we're at our best."
She was in the middle of several plays that brought the crowd out of their seats. In one play, she stole the ball under the Weber basket, dribbled about a quarter of the court and then rocketed a pass to Call, who laid it in for a 46-33 lead.
She also was able to collect a bounce pass from Williams and dribble through traffic for a layup that even stunned her coaches.
"She just keeps doing things that make you go, 'Wow!'" said Reisbeck. "That one layup she had down here, where she weaved through and somehow got it to go up and in, I got caught up in that one. That's the way she's been all year."
Still, Reisbeck said the mistake opponents have made is assuming the Titans are a two-player team.
"We're way more than that," he said "Those other kids stepped up."
And according to Weber head coach Rick Stoeckl, that was the difference in the game.
"We try to stop Martin and Williams and Starks goes off," said Stoeckl. "That hurt us. I think she was the difference in the game really."
The Warriors had an impressive run that ended with the program playing in the championship game for the first time in school history. Guards Erin Reichle, a junior, and Erica Olpin, a senior, were impressive once again with 14 and 15 points respectively.
"I'm so proud of these girls," he said. "It's been an awesome run. I'm just proud because we didn't drop our heads, we just kept coming, and we made our runs."
And the Titan defense, thanks to depth and conditioning, withstood those runs. Reisbeck credited his seven seniors with not only the state title, but with the impressive 89-5 record.
"There is a reason why they only lost one game," said Reisbeck. "When push comes to shove, they're going to come out on top."
5A All-Tournament Team
MVP — Brittney Martin, Syracuse
Makenlee Williams, Syracuse
Courtney Starks, SyracuseComment on this story
Erin Reichle, Weber
Erica Olpin, Weber
Jamie Smith, Riverton
Cassidy Fraughton, American Fork