Girls high school basketball: Copper Hills makes history with 5A semifinal berth
Tom Smart, Deseret News
TAYLORSVILLE – When Copper Hills guard Shirsten Wissinger was a freshman, playoff glory was someone else’s reality.
This week, the senior helped the program make history as the Grizzlies 42-36 victory over Riverton Thursday afternoon earns the second-ranked undefeated squad a berth into Friday’s 5A semifinal where they will face the classification’s only other undefeated team — top-ranked Layton.
“Riverton is a great team,” said Wissinger, after leading the team in scoring with 12 points and four steals. “Winning this and going onto the semis tomorrow is a huge deal. It’s never been done in Copper Hills history, which is amazing.”
Despite their history making moment, Wissinger said she doesn’t feel any pressure.
“We just focus on the task at hand,” she smiled. “We expect ourselves to win. (Wednesday) we were not playing at our highest level, that was a little bit of an upset to us. Today we definitely came out and showed, ‘We’re here, and we’re ready to play.’”
The teams played even for three of the four quarters, but it was the second quarter that decided the game. While the Grizzlies defense held Riverton to a single field goal, they managed 10 points for a 19-11 halftime lead they never relinquished.
Copper Hills head coach Ben Morley said he felt the win was the direct result of defensive commitment.
“Our defense was outstanding tonight,” he said. “We felt like we had a good plan coming in, the girls just executed it to perfection. We had so many deflections in this game, and we were just able to disrupt what they were trying to do.”
The Grizzlies had 16 steals to Riverton’s seven, and they were almost even rebounding despite a height disadvantage in the paint.
He asked senior Mikelle Magalogo to defend the pain, and she once again delivered.
“She’s so versatile,” he said. “I can put her on the point guard and she’d lock her down. I can put her on the biggest post player in the state, and just with her quickness and her length and athleticism, she’s just a disrupter. There is no way we win this game without her.”
Afu and Kane still managed to shoulder the bulk of Riverton’s offensive load, with Afu scoring 14 points and Kane added 15 points. Kane also grabbed 12 rebounds, had three blocked shots and a steal, while Afu also added six rebounds, two assists and five of the team’s seven steals. Wissinger led the team in scoring, but she struggled with some shots she usually makes until it mattered most. That’s when she came up in countless critical ways – rebounds, a steal, a stop and, of course, some big buckets.
“Shirsten did not have her best stuff tonight,” Morley said. “But she was willing to draw a lot of attention away, and that opened up her teammates. Her willing to defer to her teammates was huge for us. To her credit, she just wants to win.”
Kate Sisler was one of those players who stepped up to shoulder some of the offensive load, as she scored 11 points, including three 3-point shots. Amberly Lazenby, who scored seven points, also grabbed five rebounds and had two steals.
“When my shot doesn’t fall, I just know I need to end up getting those rebounds, getting those assists where I can,” she said.
She became animated when asked about the team’s post players, including Magalogo and Ashley Hodge.
“They totally bullied those girls,” Morley said. “They were amazing.”
Morley could analyze what his team did, but he’s finding it harder to put into words how they adjust to every challenge they’ve encountered this season as a group.
“This was a game that’s been pretty typical of the way we’ve been all season,” he said. “We’re very, very flexible, for lack of a better word, resilient, we’ll just win in any way we can. I just don’t really have the words to explain the way this team is able to come through and find a way to win.”