Sometimes the best player on the floor doesn’t have to say anything to inspire confidence and cooperation among her teammates.
None of this year’s five Deseret News MVPs is the loudest player on the court. But they all have several traits in common — a relentless work ethic, an insatiable competitive desire and an unfettered affection for their teammates. Those traits coupled with their athletic ability helped them lead their teams to successful seasons.
5A MVP MERCEDES STAPLES, Viewmont
There isn’t much that rattles junior guard Mercedes Staples.
“She is just the calmest, most confident kid,” said Viewmont head coach Clint Straatman. “She seems like she’s always really cool under pressure.”
While Staples has the skills to take over a game, she has a respect for the game and an affection for her teammates that allows her to elevate the play of those around her.
“When she was a freshman, she didn’t want to come in and just take over,” Straatman said. “She was skilled enough, she probably could have.” But what she did was come in and make her teammates the beneficiaries of her timely, well-placed passes.
In fact, her coach said she’d pass when she could score, just to get her teammates more involved or to build their confidence.
“I think they felt the confidence Mercedes had in them,” he said. “She knew she was the best player and so did they, so she deferred quite a bit and got some of the other kids involved.”
Staples led the Vikings to the 5A state championship game with 17.4 points, 4.2 assists and 2.3 steals per game.
Her leadership style is more “Let’s do this together” than “Hey, you really need to do more of this.”
“She had a real finger on the pulse of what the team needed,” Straatman said. “That could mean switching from zone to man or running a certain offense. She just had a real knack for what they needed to do.”
His confidence in Staples translated into a lot of freedom for the soft-spoken guard with deceptive speed.
“I’d just kind of look over at her and say, “What do you think?’” Straatman said. “And she’d know what to do.”
4A MVP MADISON GRANGE, Skyline
Madison Grange was always hungry for feedback. Whether it was drills, practices or games, the junior guard had an insatiable desire for constructive criticism.
“She is really coachable,” said Skyline head coach Lynette Schroeder. “She wants to be the best. She wants to know what she needs to do to improve. She always wants to be critiqued.”
Grange worked hard in the offseason to improve her basketball skills, and it was most evident in her defense.
“She has great length,” Schroeder said. “You’re not aware of the length she provides defensively until you try and pass the ball over her. She just creates awkward passing angles for other teams.”
Her hustle, athleticism and length allowed her to disrupt opposing offenses with regularity.
“She was also able to grab a lot of offensive rebounds,” she said. “And then offensively, her length gave her an extra inch to get shots off, and she was able to extend to the basket and finish.”
Her work ethic and natural ability allowed her to help Skyline to a 4A state title. Part of her success, Schroeder said, was knowing how to get her teammates involved.
“We had a really talented team, and she realized when she needed to step up and when she needed to pass the ball,” she said. “She balanced that really well.”
Like the other MVPs being honored this season, she is shy and quiet.
“She leads by working as hard as she can every minute she steps on the floor,” Schroeder said. “On the floor is when she lets her game do all of the talking.”
3A MVP BECCA CURRAN, Juan Diego
During one midseason practice, Juan Diego head coach Tim Turpin asked his players to line themselves up on the baseline from best free-throw shooter to the worst.
“Becca (Curran) put herself near the end, the worst,” he said of the senior guard. “I was really surprised. She’d missed a couple in a game, but she was a really good free-throw shooter.”
The coach points to that story as an example of Curran’s commitment to excellence. Whether it's in the classroom or on the court, Curran gives her best effort without complaint or excuse.
“She works her guts out at practice,” Turpin said. “She doesn’t say much, but she’ll dive over every ball, and people respect that.” Curran averaged 10.1 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3 steals per game in leading the Soaring Eagle to this year's 3A state title.
“She’s not a huge kid,” Turpin said of the 5-foot-7 guard. “But she’s a tough kid, a good ball handler and a great shooter. She’ll go hard to the basket and she’s a really tough kid on defense.”
She also possesses that intangible knack for finding her way to the ball.
“That’s what makes her a really great player,” Turpin said. “She comes up with a lot of steals. When you’ve got to have a great play in a game, she comes up with it — whether that’s a steal or a tip or a rebound.”
Curran isn’t going to be the player to jump on a soapbox and give an inspirational speech. But she will be the hardest-working player at every practice.
“She’d win the sprints almost every time,” Turpin said. “The only time she didn’t is when she was hurt. She’s a kid who doesn’t argue back, doesn’t say a lot, but just works hard.”
Her competitive drive pushes her to find the best in herself while bringing out the best in her teammates.
“Becca has that special thing,” he said, detailing how in a critical region game she hit a big shot, grabbed a steal and then when a teammate missed a layup, she tipped it in for a last-second win. “She just doesn’t want to fail. She doesn’t want to lose.”
2A MVP PEYTON TORGERSON, North Sevier
There are no stats for the most important contributions made by two-time 2A MVP Peyton Torgerson.
“She really tries to build everyone up and make them feel like they’re important,” said North Sevier head coach Lexa Larsen. “She did so much that wouldn’t show up in stats — encouraging them, high fives, telling them she believes in them, driving to the basket and kicking it out to them and telling them to shoot and that she knows they can hit that shot.”
Torgerson has obvious athletic talent. But the senior guard’s goal was never about what she could do on the court.
Instead, it was how she could bring out the best in those she played with, even if it meant less glory for herself.
“She doesn’t care about stats — at all,” Larsen said of the 5-foot-11 senior guard who averaged 15.9 points, 6.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.3 steals in leading the Wolves to a 2A state title. “She’s not playing the game to get any kind of recognition. She had two main goals — get a D1 scholarship and win a state championship. She accomplished both.” Signing with Southern Utah University in November gave Torgerson a freedom and confidence that Larsen could see in every aspect of her game.
And while Torgerson has always been the team’s statistical leader, this year she also developed into the kind of leader other players naturally want to follow.
“Peyton is really sensitive to how everybody else feels,” Larsen said. “She wants everyone else to be happy. She tries to build their confidence.”
That leads to better chemistry, better synchronicity on the court.
“I feel like everybody wants to play with her and be on her team,” Larsen said. “It’s a great compliment to her that she’s a really, really good teammate.”
1A MVP DANIELLE BRINKERHOFF, Bryce Valley
Danielle Brinkerhoff isn’t comfortable in the glare of the spotlight, but she also isn’t afraid of it.
“She had to adjust this season,” said her dad and Bryce Valley head girls basketball coach Tyson Brinkerhoff. “For the first time in her career, she had to be more of a scorer.” The four-year starting point guard led the team in every statistical category except scoring as a sophomore and a junior. But this year, if her team was going to achieve its goal of earning the school’s first 1A girls basketball title, she had to also lead the program in scoring.
“She’d much rather make a pass and let someone else have the satisfaction of scoring,” Brinkerhoff said. “I think it’s just her personality.”
She led the team with 10.1 points per game, 7.6 rebounds per game, 4.1 assists per game and 2.2 steals per game. Brinkerhoff said his daughter values team in a way many players don’t. It is as important to her that everyone on the floor have as much fun — and as much success — as she has.
“She’s interesting that way,” the coach said. “She’s always kind of been the one to help out.” Whether it’s on the court or in the classroom, Danielle gives her best effort while reaching out to help those around her. She is the school’s student body president, a Sterling Scholar nominee, and she earned Academic All-State honors in basketball.
"That was probably my proudest moment as a father in four years," he said of seeing her honored for a 4.0 GPA during halftime of the state championship game.
In the waning seconds of Bryce Valley’s overtime win against Tabiona, Danielle Brinkerhoff hit the game-tying jumper shot that sent the game into overtime. She missed a free throw with the team clinging to a one-point lead, but then chased down her own rebound to help her team hold onto the ball with just a few seconds on the clock.
“It’s a rare and fun thing to win a championship,” Tyson Brinkerhoff said, “but to share it with your daughter is really kind of cool.”