It is one thing to develop your own skills as a player.
It is quite a different talent to be able to help others reach their potential. This year's Deseret News Most Valuable Players did just that as they led their teammates to both personal and team success. All five girls are a rare combination of compassion and toughness, humility and confidence.
Makenzi Morrison, Alta
When Makenzi Morrison began playing basketball for Alta High as a freshman, she ended every practice with some words for her coach.
"She'd come up and say, 'Thank you, coach', every day," said Hawks head coach Kristi Jensen. "She's one of the nicest people you'll ever meet."
Don't mistake her manners for weakness, however. The junior guard is one of the toughest, hardest working players in the state. That was evidenced when she led the Hawks through a tough region schedule, and then to an unexpected 5A state title.
Morrison scored 13 points, grabbed seven rebounds, earned six assists and grabbed three steals in the 67-59 victory. The loss was the first this season for Syracuse.
"She has a lot of great strengths," said Jensen. "She's an amazing defender....She is also a really good leader."
Her style isn't to hoot and holler, but more to lead and by working so hard, her teammates want to join her. She led the Hawks in rebounding, despite guarding mostly point guards.
"Every part of her game was an important part of what we did," said Jensen. "She works her butt off, but she's a pretty quiet person. She doesn't yell at people; she just gets it done. And she's the kind of person people follow."
The junior committed to BYU last summer and Jensen expects she'll continue to work hard despite earning a scholarship and a state title. She is just as dedicated in the classroom maintaining a 3.9 GPA.
Her example means good things for the Hawks next season.
"She works so hard, and it makes everybody else step up to that kind of level."
Lexi Eaton, Springville
Lexi Eaton is so talented she probably could have gotten by with half the effort other players have to expend. But that's not the kind of girl she is.
"She has an amazing work ethic," said Springville head coach Nancy Warner. "She works so hard, not only during the season but year-round."
Eaton led the Red Devils to a 4A state title for the second straight year by averaging 29 points, seven rebounds, 3.2 assists and 3.4 steals. Anything the Red Devils needed, Eaton provided.
"Putting in the time has made her a better student of the game," said Warner. "That was evident in her game. She was able to create her own shot; she was able to finish, she was able to make the better pass. It showed in her maturity level."
As successful as Eaton has been, earning Ms. Basketball honors last year and all-state all four years, her accomplishment never changed who she was.
"She never let it go to her head," Warner said. "She is nice to everyone; she helps everyone."
Her desire to help her teammates improve is key in the Red Devils' ability to earn a second straight title.
"She's just a great leader and example," said Warner. "She is a humble person, and she's the first person to congratulate someone else. She trusts her teammates and that gives them confidence."
Part of what made Eaton successful was the ability to battle through disappointment.
"No athlete is perfect, and there were times when she wasn't shooting the ball the best or she didn't make a layup," said Warner. "She'd get up early or go late at night to her church house and shoot. She asked coaches to look at her shot; she wanted feedback. She just fought through it."
The future BYU Cougar is just as committed to every endeavor in her life, including her studies. She maintains a 4.0 GPA and is an accomplished pianist and organist.
Warner, who also played at BYU, said Eaton's abilities even exceed her expectations at times.
"She surprises me all the time," said Warner. "She's just so dang athletic. She elevates over everybody. Her ability to shoot, rebound or finish strong, all the time. I love watching her. Part of the reason I enjoy it is that I know she's never going to settle for anything less than 100 percent."
Taylor Mann, Emery
Being the player the team relies on can wear on anyone. But Taylor Mann dealt with the pressure by playing even better.
"She was our go-to player in the post," said Emery head coach Steve Gordon. "She tried to establish the inside game, and she was double- and triple-teamed sometimes, so our guards could hit outside shots. She controlled the boards."
Her ability to rebound, especially in the second half of the state championship game, is one of the key reasons Emery found a way to beat Carbon for the 3A title. The two teams had met two other times this season and the Dinos won both of those contests.
"I think the girls were calm," said Gordon. "I was probably more scared to play them than the girls were. They didn't seem to be scared at all."
In addition to being in the title game, the Dinos are the Spartans' biggest rivals, despite playing in a different region.
"They all played each other in junior high, so it was more than just that game," Gordon said.
And no one was more prepared for a rematch than Mann.
"Especially in the second half, her ability to control the boards was huge for us," he said.
Mann's leadership style was to push her teammates as hard as she pushed herself.
"She was always on our second team trying to make them work harder," he said. "I didn't have to put a lot of pressure on the girls. Taylor was more vocal this year and she really wanted to win."
Mann maintains a 3.9 GPA and led the Spartans with 20 points per game. She is also an 82 percent free throw shooter. She finished the year with 269 rebounds and 62 blocks. Mann will play for BYU-Hawaii next year.
"It's going to be hard to replace her," said Gordon.
Tressa Lyman, Enterprise
When the Enterprise Wolves took the floor after a timeout, they were prepared to execute the adjustment made by their coaches.
As the two teams prepared to resume playing, coach Brian Phelps noticed the opposing team wasn't in the system they'd expected.
"Tressa (Lyman) picked it up as fast as the coaching staff did and told the players to change the plan," Phelps said. "She's just very intelligent. She really is like a coach on the floor."
Lyman is a three-sport athlete (volleyball and track) with a 4.0 GPA and a 32 ACT. She will play volleyball for Idaho State next season. This winter was all about redemption for Lyman, who helped the Wolves to the title game two years in a row. Last year they lost to Beaver. This year, they beat their rivals.
Part of the Wolves' success came because Lyman was able to lead a very young team.
"She made the young kids feel needed and wanted," said Phelps. "Her confidence is so strong that she just felt there was no way we were going to lose. She helped instill that in the other kids."
In every game, he said, his players might have had to fight for every ball, every point, but they honestly believed they'd emerge victorious.
"They really believed we were going to win every, single night," he said.
Lyman led the team with 17 points per game and nearly 10 rebounds per contest. She also earned 87 steals and 67 blocks.
"She's by far the most complete player I've coached," said Phelps. "And I've had some really good (players) over the years. Her defensive ability is incredible. She's definitely one-of-a-kind."
Kandice Gleave, Piute
Kandice Gleave's athletic ability is obvious to even the most casual observer. But that isn't the reason the Thunderbirds were able to have another successful season after losing most of the starters from last year's state championship team to graduation.
It is because she was willing to teach her young teammates what she knows.
"She is not afraid to show the girls what they need to do," said Piute head coach Wade Westwood. "She was just a girl who caught onto things really easy. So she took on the role of teacher really early."
Whether it is shooting advice, post moves or dribbling, Gleave spends countless hours helping other players with their skills. She is also an Academic All-State winner with a 4.0 GPA, an all-state volleyball player and track athlete. She hasn't decided where she wants to go to college or which sport she'll pursue.
Her willingness to share her knowledge and experience helped the T-birds to the top of a tough region, which is something not many people expected.
"It's easier when one of their teammates helps them and works with them," he said. "They pick it up easier than me showing them. She would just constantly be helping out the freshman this year."
Gleave averaged 20 points per game, but is also one of the state's best defenders. She is a physical, tough player who helps her teammates reach their potential on and off the court.
"She's our backbone," Westwood said. "She's just tough. There were a couple of times this year, once down by 20 points, and she just told the girls, we're not giving up. She's tough physically and she never gave up. She just never quits."
And with a player like that on the floor, a coach can be certain of one thing.
"I felt like at every game, when Kandice was on the floor, we had a chance to win. She's not a player you get every year."
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