High school girls basketball: Long-suffering Granger hoops team rising in West Valley
Matt Gade, Deseret News
WEST VALLEY CITY — Nearly two weeks ago, the Granger girls basketball team was upset by Region 2 foe Taylorsville High.
The program that has not had a winning season in 28 years, and has had only three of them in team history, is suddenly a favorite, fighting for the top spot in the region standings.
That transition — from west side pushover to league title contender — is largely due to the vision of one man: head coach Aaron Cousins.
A native of the Bay Area and a graduate of a high school with a diverse population, Cousins wanted to be teaching and coaching at a school like Granger, and Granger wanted him.
“I did my entire interview over the phone,” said the coach, who had been working in Kentucky when he applied for the position in the spring of 2006. “The guy who hired me said, ‘There’s just something about you that we need you here.’”
To illustrate what the new coach would be taking on, Granger's athletic director sent Cousins the roster of the season that had just ended.
There were six names listed.
All of the other players had quit or had been dismissed from the team due to academic ineligibility or disciplinary reasons.
“So I came in and that first year I had 11 seniors because I only had 22 girls try out,” Cousins said of his inaugural, 2006-07 season. “The program was just in disarray.”
The Lancers won four games that year, more than they had in the previous three seasons combined. The next year, however, was winless: 0-21. On the court, the coach needed athletic bodies — “I was pulling in cheerleaders who looked athletic; I went and raided the soccer team; I went and begged volleyball players — anybody that would come play” — and off the court, he needed to change the attitudes that doomed the Granger girls basketball program.
“When I got here, the principal told me, ‘We just want to see you compete. We don’t want to get blown out,’” Cousins said. “First, I had to get the girls to understand that we could compete.”
So, during his first year at Granger, the coach compiled every piece of statistical information he could find, resolving that he and his players could not know where they were going until they knew from where the program had come.
Cousins created a list of Granger’s all-time scoring leaders, a complete coaching history, and the win-loss records against every team the team has ever faced. He discovered that, prior to his arrival, the Lancers had known 13 different head coaches across just 32 seasons — a change every 2 1/2 years — which helped partly explained why Granger accumulated losing records against a large number of schools across the state.
“These are some of the things that I’ve put together to try and change a culture, to try and let the kids know where they are," Cousins said.
He also put together workouts and activities, and he established incentives to motivate girls to join the team. Soon, talented basketball players who lived within the Granger High boundaries tried out for their home team, and the tide started to turn for the Lancers.
“That’s one of the reasons Jessica (Matheson) is here,” Cousins said, “because she liked what had been going on.”
Matheson, a junior guard, is one of those gifted, West Valley City-bred players who knew she wanted to be a Lancer after watching those before find success on the team.