TAYLORSVILLE — Amid the chaos of her team's playoff game, coach Lisa Dalebout reached up and placed her hands on either side of 15-year-old Shelbee Molen's face and tried to remind her that basketball was the game she was born to play.
"You've been playing this game since you were 4 years old," Dalebout told her as she prepared to re-enter the game at 1:52 in the first quarter. "Now get in there and play!"
Molen said afterward that those few seconds changed how she felt about herself, which allowed her to change the way she played. The sophomore guard led the unranked, fourth-seeded Fremont Silver Wolves to their second upset of the 5A state tournament with 14 points, six rebounds, five steals and four assists.
Her team's 49-26 victory over fifth-ranked American Fork Wednesday night at Salt Lake Community College was so lopsided it baffled coaches from both teams.
"I don't know what's going on," said Dalebout with a grin. "I think they believe in each other. I don't know if we have ever felt like (underdogs). Everybody has always looked at us as a four seed. But we've always seen ourselves as a two seed that got unlucky, I guess."
Dalebout said she has watched Molen struggle with confidence at times, and it is heartbreaking because the teen is so talented.
"If there is anybody who has deserved to be good in this moment, it's her," said Dalebout. "She puts such immense pressure on herself. It's been hard to watch because she's so good, and she's playing so tight. She hasn't been looking for her shot. We're better when Shelbee looks for her shot."
Dalebout is an emotional coach, but she said her young players have struggled with her intensity. So she said she's tried, albeit sometimes unsuccessfully, to use a softer, more positive approach with her budding players. "It's hard to know, when they're young, what to say to them," she said. "When they're older, I feel like I can be a little more fierce with them. But I think tonight she came out and responded nicely."
Molen said of Dalebout's comment in the first quarter: "It made me truly feel that she believed in me, and it just gave me a boost of confidence that I could do it."
Molen just got more impressive as the game rolled along. She and freshman guard Harley Hansen were key in the Fremont press and they both hit big shots to help the Silver Wolves hang onto the momentum.
At one point, Dalebout called to Hansen: "Harley, don't fall asleep on me!"
Moments later, Hansen, stole the ball and hit a jump shot. Hansen finished with 12 points, four assists and three steals.
Both teams were a little tentative at first and the pace was frenetic. It was junior Amanda Wayment and the Silver Wolves' lone senior, Tanesha Daniels, who stepped up at that time to score and rebound, giving their team an 11-5 lead at the end of the quarter.
"I felt like I didn't play well on Monday," said Daniels. "I felt like I stepped it up a lot. I felt like I grew up." Fremont players and their coach said they have matured over the season and are finally playing with the chemistry and confidence they knew was there in the beginning.
"They matured a lot," said Daniels of her young teammates. "They're not playing like sophomores and juniors. They're playing like seniors — all of them."
And the freshman might be the most unruffled by the pressure.
"I wasn't nervous," Hansen said with a shrug. "I was excited. I was ready to play, and I wanted to go for it."
Dalebout was elated at what her team accomplished Wednesday night.
"I'm amazed honestly," she said. "I was amazed at some of the things they were doing. We've been working and emphasizing some of those things all year long, and it's just clicking right now. It's unbelievable. It makes me very proud." The fact that her players never saw themselves as a fourth-place team not only gave them confidence that opponents might not understand, but it has also allowed them to play with some freedom.
"We had nothing to lose," said Hansen.
While everything clicked for Fremont, everything seemingly unraveled for American Fork.
"They were better than us," said head coach Corey Clayton. "They made shots and we didn't. Our kids looked more nervous than their kids, right off the bat. I don't know what that comes from."
"It was more a shoulders-up problem than a matchup problem," he said. "I don’t know." He said they may have overprepared for the game, something he's carefully avoided this season.
"When you get to this point, you don't want to ever walk away thinking, 'If we had been more prepared...'" he said. "But I think we might have overprepared to the point where we just froze mentally and didn't play our game at all."