Last year Hillcrest saw its chances for a state title die when the Huskies lost by two points to Taylorsville in the 4A semifinals. Coach Jeannie Wilson believed that the 1987-88 season was to be her best shot at a championship for years to come, and predicted that the next few years would be a little lean.

But with the Huskies standing in second place in Region 2 behind Mountain View, Wilson now has a different outlook.

"I was so devastated after last year," Wilson said. "I thought that was my chance. But your team is what you make it. This team is totally different, but they (the players) can win it."

Wilson isn't just full of wishful thinking either. The Huskies have proven they can win, having claimed the "Next Year's Team" tournament at Alta this summer and the CEU tourney by downing defending state champion Clearfield by 15 ponts. The biggest victory, however, came at the University of San Diego, where Hillcrest won the summer-camp tournament - and one California opponent being a three-time defending CIF champion.

One reason for Wilson's optimism and Hillcrest's winning record is guard Nikki Eyre, the Huskies' floor leader, scorer and defensive spark. The 5-foot-8 senior is touted as one of the top girls players in the state - and with good reason. She's already committed to play for BYU next year, and is averaging 16 points a game, with a career-best of 28 against Mountain View. This season, Eyre has hit 24 of 38 three-point attempts.

"Nikki is good in every aspect of the game," said Wilson. "Teams try to key on her, but she can pass, shoot and play defense."

Eyre has drawn on the basketball skills and savvy of her father and grandfather, but Wilson insists that her standout player also knows the meaning of hard work.

"The reason she deserves recognition is because of her hard work. What makes her different is that she doesn't practice basketball for a couple of hours. She's in her driveway shoveling snow in 20-degree weather so she can shoot. She has really worked.

"Her desire is so incredible - she wants to be the best. That's a big motivating factor."

Basketball is something Eyre has been playing since she was young, moving through the Midvale recreation program and into Union Middle School.

"We always used to play on the driveway where we had a hoop set up and we would have contests," she recalled. "It sounds strange, but I love to practice."

Wilson had another guard of similar caliber - Reggie Wright, who went on to play for the University of Utah. Many compare the two.

"I do see similarities in a lot of ways," Wilson said. "Their styles are different but their capabilities are the same. Reggie was sleek and smooth. Nikki is more explosive."

Eyre's basketball achievements are numerous - all-state honors as well as her BYU scholarship. And with a state title in sight, she'll be combining talents with teammates such as seniors Tauna Lindstrom and Cindy Rutlenbur and juniors Pam Nielsen and Tammie Clark.

"Nikki can't do it without her team," Wilson said. "If they key on Nikki, one of the others can light it up. We run like crazy. We haave to - we don't have any height. They (the players) are not afraid of anything."

If Hillcrest hopes to win the 4A crown, the Huskies are going to have to defeat some tough competition - Mountain View, which is led by Stephanie and Julie Henrry; Clearfield, which has another top guard in Kim Hill; Taylorsville, with its top gun Natalie Williams; and Viewmont, which features Tiffany Twitchell. All of the aforementioned teams are leading their respective regions and are expected to vie for the 4A title.