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High school basketball: Girls MVPs more than just talented athletes

Published: Monday, July 27 2015 11:54 p.m. MDT

 (Doug Reinhart) (Doug Reinhart)

Success in a team sport requires more than just talented components.

This year's Deseret News girls basketball MVPs exhibited more than athletic ability. They pushed and motivated their teammates — physically and emotionally — and evolved both on and off the court into leaders who understood how to involve and inspire those around them.

These five MVPs earned accolades and honors for their athletic talents, but their ability to help those around them reach their potential was equally impressive.

5A MVP: Makenzi Morrison, Alta

Terry Morrison never had to lecture his daughter about the value of hard work or the benefits of practicing.

"Quite frankly, we've been really lucky," said Terry of his daughter Makenzi, this year's 5A MVP for the second straight season. "She just likes to play and has always been self-motivated. We've never had to say, 'Go shoot; go practice; you need to give it your all.' "

Alta's Makenzi Morrison as Alta High School is defeated by American Fork High School 63-60 on a last second 3-point-shot in girl's basketball  Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2012, in Draper,  Utah. (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Alta's Makenzi Morrison as Alta High School is defeated by American Fork High School 63-60 on a last second 3-point-shot in girl's basketball Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2012, in Draper, Utah. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

While there are a lot of different traits that make a player talented, just one can make her successful — determination.

"She's an amazing basketball player," said Alta coach Kristi Jensen. "But her greatest strength would be how hard she works."

It especially paid off this season as Morrison was one of the team's few returning players with significant varsity experience.

"Her role changed a ton this year," said Jensen. "She had to teach her teammates how to be aggressive; she had to take over a lot. It was a very different experience."

For the second straight year, Morrison led 5A in scoring with 22.83 points per game. She averaged 7.7 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 4.7 steals, and her team finished with a 17-6 record and a Region 3 title.

Mountain Crest High School plays Springville during the 4A girls basketball semifinal game at Salt Lake Community College in Taylorsville on Friday, Feb. 24, 2012. Springville won 61-59. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News) Mountain Crest High School plays Springville during the 4A girls basketball semifinal game at Salt Lake Community College in Taylorsville on Friday, Feb. 24, 2012. Springville won 61-59. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

"She's always been an example of hard work, but she's never had to say anything," said Jensen. "And at first it was really hard for her. … She's the nicest person ever and she didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings."

Jensen said she found a way to teach without being condescending, and her teammates responded.

Morrison's work ethic likely came from being underestimated when she first started playing AAU basketball.

"She didn't play much," said her father. "All the other kids were bigger. She tried so hard, but she was kind of small and wasn't a starter. For some kids, that kind of experience might melt you down and you'll just give up, or it will make you stronger. She was bound and determined to prove that she was going to be on the floor and play."

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He said that experience of having to prove herself shaped her attitude.

"You don't have to poke or prod her," he said of her work ethic. "She is so consistent. There has never been a game when she doesn't show up."

She's also a hard-working student, maintaining a 3.9 GPA. She will play for BYU next season.

4A MVP: Karlee Kartchner, Mountain Crest

Karlee Kartchner was just a role player for Mountain Crest her junior year. But with the graduation of the team's leaders and a new coach, Kartchner seized the opportunity that presented itself.

"From the beginning of team camp last summer, she's been the leading rebounder, the leading scorer and the team leader," said first-year coach Candace Thornton. "That's all I've known. This is Karlee. This is what she does."

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What she did was become one of the state's most consistent top performers. She averaged a double-double with 23 points and 11.7 rebounds per game. She also averaged 1.7 blocks, 2.6 steals and 3.3 assists, and played well enough to earn a scholarship to Utah Valley University.

Kartchner's defining moment came in the team's final game — a loss to Springville. She scored 25 points and grabbed 22 rebounds, showing that she couldn't be stopped even by one of the state's best defenses.

"She's a high school girl, but she takes basketball very seriously and it shows," said Thornton.

Kartchner's effort in the off-season made the difference for the young Mustangs.

"It was huge," said Thornton. "Especially since we started quite a few younger girls."

The coach said Kartchner's ability to handle the ball in the open court gave her an edge — especially as a post player.

"It's very rare for a post to get a rebound, drive the length of the court and finish, while being guarded the whole time," said Thornton. "We had a play for Karlee to go one-on-one. That caught a lot of people off guard."

3A MVP: Amy Harris, Snow Canyon

Amy Harris has always been an impressive young talent on the basketball court.

"In the past she's been a real talent," said Warriors coach Wade Jensen. "The last two years, we've had glimpses where she was unbelievable."

But her brilliant play was stymied by chronic injuries.

Still expectations were extremely high for the junior guard and her talented young teammates coming into this season. Then, in the first game of the season, she sustained a concussion in the final seconds of a loss to Juan Diego.

She had to sit out for five games, and she watched as her teammates won every one of them.

"She came to me and asked me what I was thinking," said Jensen. "And I told her, 'We're going to win with or without you this year.' Within a couple of days, she was back at it, and she became a more complete player."

Harris averaged 16.55 points and 6.95 rebounds per game. She also led her team in 3-pointers, draining 28 from beyond the arc, and steals with 86.

"She is a gym rat," said Jensen. "She works as hard as anybody on her game."

And instead of withering under pressure, she thrived.

"This year she did what she had to do to win," said Jensen. "Everybody knew when it was crunch time, she was going to be taking the shot."

But that doesn't mean she was selfish in her approach to earning those wins — and eventually the 3A state title.

"She became a better teammate," said Jensen. "She wasn't worried about numbers, just how she could help the team."

Rather than flashes of brilliance, her coaches saw consistently impressive play every night.

"I think last year she put too much pressure on herself," Jensen said. Harris, who is as hard working in the classroom as she is on the court, moved from point guard to shooting guard and helped the team even more because of her confidence.

"She's the one who wanted to take the big shot," said Jensen. "When things get tough, sometimes kids are uncertain of themselves. She just had confidence; she wanted the opportunity to make a big play."

2A MVP: Megan Bean, Richfield

As an athletic forward, opponents expect Megan Bean to score.

But what other teams don't always anticipate is just how quick the junior is and how well she can handle the ball.

"She had guard-like speed," said Richfield coach Marc Peterson. "She just runs the floor really well. And she's efficient inside the paint. Her percentage was just off the charts."

Bean led the classification with 16 points per game, and was one of the top rebounders, averaging eight boards per game. She also averaged three blocked shots per game. Bean was better because her team needed her to be better.

"As a sophomore she played a role," said Peterson. "This year, we only had one senior on the team. She took the leadership role and scored 15 points per game. She could have scored a lot more, but our team was pretty balanced."

Bean's relentless work ethic, coachable attitude and affection for her teammates made her an effective leader who didn't have to say a lot to earn the respect of those around her.

"She is obsessed with getting better," said Peterson. "This year she realized how good a basketball player she could be. She does whatever we ask of her. She is a fun person to be around, but at the same time, she's one of the hardest workers I've ever had in the gym."

And when it came to crunch time, Bean's competitive nature shined.

"You just looked at her on the floor, and you could tell she was ready to put the team on her shoulders if we needed her to," said Peterson.

She is also an all-state volleyball player and track athlete.

"She runs sprints and does the high jump," Peterson said. "She's just an all-around athlete. We've had some good ones here at Richfield High, but she's right up there with the best."

1A MVP: Katie Berry, St. Joseph

Sometimes having one player score a lot of points can destroy the chemistry of a team. The way Katie Berry handled her role as the Jayhawks' top scorer only added to the team's chemistry.

"She's just a natural scorer," said St. Joseph coach Joe Cravens. "She had a knack for finding shots and scoring and doing it within the team concept."

Berry helped St. Joseph to a great start in the 1A state title game against a tough Rich team that had dominated every other opponent in the tournament.

Cravens said a player who knows how to score points can be invaluable to a team — if it's handled the right way.

"She reminds me of scorers I've had in my career," he said. "She scores, but she's a great teammate, a great leader. She's a nice person, but she's got a scorer's mentality. She understood how to get points."

As one of the Jayhawks' co-captains, Berry is one of only two girls in St. Joseph's history to score more than 1,000 points.

"She's a kid who can shoot," Cravens said. "We're very fortunate by the end of the year, everyone understood their role. … You can't have a good team without star role players. … Katie Berry's role was to lead us in scoring. And she did that without any ego."

Berry, an honor student who was also a part of the school's state championship tennis team, averaged 15.64 points and three rebounds per game. She helped the Jayhawks to their first state title in girls basketball in school history.

Email: adonaldson@desnews.com

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