SALT LAKE CITY — No one likes losing.
But as the Alta girls basketball team lost game after game, they weren't just angry about the scores.
"They said, 'We're not mad about losing'," said Alta head coach Kristi Jensen. "'We're mad about why we're losing.' And I think that's a very mature mindset. I think this team is going to be successful."
If Thursday night's 56-42 win over Skyline is any indication, then the Hawks have learned a lot from a painful preseason that included losses to the state's top four teams.
Alta didn't just earn a victory, they did so in dominating fashion. The Hawks controlled the game the entire contest, never getting complacent when they were up by double digits and never panicking when the Eagles made their runs.
"I think we turned a corner, and that's a big deal," said Jensen. "We're adjusting to life without Kenzie (Morrison, last year's 5A MVP), and it's very different."
The biggest difference is that the Hawks can't just get their superstar the ball and hope to win. Now the responsibility for scoring, defending and even inspiring comes from players who are not used to the spotlight.
"This team doesn't have that superstar," Jensen said. "We're just a bunch of good players who have to play together in order to be great."
The biggest issue is leadership.
"We're young and we just had this conversation at practice yesterday about needing someone to step up and take the leadership role," she said. "Communication and leadership go hand-in-hand. We've been missing leadership. But I saw a lot more of that day than I have in the past few weeks … I think we're just starting to click."
"We've played a tough preseason for a reason," said the coach. "I told my team, 'This part doesn't matter. This is where you get better. Region will be tough and you have to be able to play game in and game out.'"
She said the team has struggled significantly in the preseason.
"But I do feel like I've seen huge improvements," she said rattling off reasons for optimism. Thursday night the team shot 46 percent after averaging 22 percent from the field in the previous 10 games.
"Every game we're seeing improvements," she said. "That's what we're excited about. I do feel like … I just feel like we've overcome a lot of things. This isn't just about basketball. It's about what you are learning about life on the court."
As solid as the Hawks offense was, it was their defense that allowed them to control the tempo of the game, which helped them keep the Eagles off balance.
"This definitely wasn't the team that left before the break," said Skyline head coach Lynette Schroeder. "We just had a lack of effort. And the result was a 20-point loss. It's definitely not how we wanted to head into region."