High school girls basketball: St. Joseph enjoying the pressure of being the favorite in 1A
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OGDEN — The pressure of defending a state title is something the St. Joseph girls basketball team is enjoying.
It is, after all, the first time the program has been in this position.
"I think it's been a positive thing," said head coach Joe Cravens. "We feel good about things so far, and this is my third year with this group. We're doing things I never dreamed of in my first year here."
That's because it wasn't just the girls who had to adjust to a new coach when Cravens was hired three years ago. It was the coach.
The former Division I men's basketball coach and current TV analyst for the Pac-12 Network had to adjust to coaching the smallest division of high school girls basketball after leading three different college programs.
"I've become a better coach at this level, and I think I understand better what it takes to be successful at this level," he said. "I'm not just coaching high school basketball. I'm coaching 1A girls basketball. It's about as far away from coaching Division I men as you can get."
There are, however, significant similarities.
"The same things that motivated and made me feel successful — the team getting better, watching the players pick up ideas, team concepts, seeing them get better individually — that's what coaching is all about," he said. "And you feel good about that. It doesn't matter what level, what gender. I'm trying to help individuals get better. ... I don't think I would have understood that if I hadn't gone through it."
Cravens helped the Jayhawks upset top-ranked Rich last season for the school's first girls basketball state title. Some of last year's starters have returned, including guard Katie Panushka. The senior is averaging 15 points and four assists per game as the team has gotten off to a 9-0 start.
Liz Toman, who averages 13.3 points and 9.2 rebounds, and Mady White, who averages 7 points, 3.3 assists and 3 steals, give the team options in the paint and on the perimeter.
"I think we're deserving of being in the top five," said Cravens. "I don't know if we're one or we're five, but we have practice tomorrow, and I'm anxious to practice. The challenge is to make us as good as we can be."
Leading up to the state tournament, Cravens expects the team's toughest test to come against region rival Layton Christian. Like most coaches, he sees Rich, Bryce Valley, Manila and Milford as some of the teams that could compete for the state title.
St. Joseph defeated Manila by 10 in preseason play, but the Mustangs will likely be in the mix at the end of the season. Janelle Reed, a senior forward, Emily Catron, a senior guard, and Rebecca Collet, a junior center, are the team's experienced leaders. Collett is averaging 8.3 points and 7.8 rebounds, while Reed is averaging 12.6 points and 8.1 rebounds. Catron is averaging 7.7 points and 6.4 rebounds as the team is off to an 8-1 start.
Manila will be tested in region by last year's runner-up and perennial power Rich High School.
The Rebels are athletic and quick, as usual, with leadership from Alisa Petersen, who averages 15 points per game, Lynzee Wallentine, who averages 6 points per game, Alyssa Brown, who averages 8.25 points per game, and Emma Peart, who averages nearly 7 points per game.