All the extra prep and effort she puts in, I think that gave her more confidence to say, ‘I want the ball when the game is on the line.' —John Moeaki
AMERICAN FORK — If Taylor Moeaki felt the weight of her own dreams along with the expectations of those she loves most, it never showed.
"She is just determined, tenacious, and fearless, I guess is the biggest thing," American Fork head coach Corey Clayton said of the senior point guard. "She doesn’t back away from any challenge. She’s not afraid of doing hard things. She just has confidence in her abilities."
While even the most talented players might falter under the unforgiving scrutiny that comes with high-pressure situations, Moeaki not only embraces those situations, she seems energized by them.
“The one thing I noticed was how willing she was to take the shot with the game on the line,” Clayton said. "Whether she won or lost the game, even as a freshman, she wanted to be the one to take that shot. And it didn’t phase her if she missed it. It didn’t change her attitude. She was not afraid to be the goat. But she was also not afraid to be the hero, which is just as impressive, in my opinion."
The best player on the state’s top team, Moeaki brought confidence, calmness and consistency to her teammates and was key in American Fork’s nearly flawless season (25-1) that included an undefeated region title and a 5A state championship. That confidence, along with her athletic skill and relentless effort are the reasons she was selected as the 2017 Ms. Basketball.
"She’s always had this quiet confidence about her," said John Moeaki of his second-oldest daughter. "It was just kind of her. But she puts in a lot of extra time, does extra workouts, shooting drills after practice or working with a trainer in the offseason. All the extra prep and effort she puts in, I think that gave her more confidence to say, ‘I want the ball when the game is on the line.'"
Moeaki had plenty of game-changing moments this season, most of which worked out in her favor. She led her team with 18.6 points, 2.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.2 steals.
Her stats are even more impressive when you consider the Cavemen employed an offense that limited her minutes and encouraged players to shoot within 10 seconds of each possession.
The first time American Fork attempted to utilize this fast-paced, high-shooting offense, Moeaki struggled.
“She is so respectful, so coachable, she never said anything to us,” Clayton said. “She never let her body language show that she was displeased with the change. She is going to just do what the coaches ask her to do. That’s a great attitude to have, especially when it’s your best player.”
There was also a game where the system didn’t seem to be working. At halftime, Clayton asked the players if they wanted to move to a more traditional substitution pattern, instead of five-at-a-time line changes the team relied on this year.
“She had the most reason to say yes,” Clayton said. “She’d be on the floor the whole time. But she said, ‘No, let’s stick with it. We’ve got to trust it.’ When she said that, I mean, if she believes in it that much, everybody else will be on board. Everyone knows she’s our best player.”
In addition to being an honor student, Moeaki applies a complete dedication to just about everything in her life.
"She scored a 33 on her ACT,” John Moeaki said of his daughter who has committed to play for Dixie State. "She’s smart, she has a lot of friends and she just works hard."
Both her father and her coach said she values the team above all else, which makes her an invaluable leader — even if she’d rather let someone else do the talking.
“She’s encouraging to her teammates,” said Clayton, who decided to retire after seeing this senior class through its final season. “I never saw her one time in four years get after a teammate, put an opponent down or do anything negative like that.”
Clayton said the relationship between a point guard and a coach is unique.
“They’re your quarterback,” Clayton said. “They’re your coach on the floor. I didn’t have to tell her a lot of things; we kind of read each other’s minds.” As for her leadership, the coach said she earned it by being among the team’s most committed athletes — and of course, its most talented.
“She had my confidence, so everybody fell in line and followed her,” Clayton said. “But she really is just an easy person to follow.”
John Moeaki said the coach’s faith in Moeaki made it easier for her to embrace challenges and pressure.
“We will always be appreciative of the way coach Clayton gave Taylor the freedom to be aggressive and to take the shots that she felt were appropriate. I never sensed any hesitation from her if she was open or if she had the opportunity to attack the basket. His confidence in her let her be aggressive and gave her the green light to see what she could do.”