As coaches of the Kearns boys and girls basketball teams, Bob Ostberg and Emily Williams are hoping to help elevate the Cougars' level of play and success.

How high?

Somewhere between where the squads have been lately — a lot of first-round losses for the girls and plenty of losing seasons for the boys — and where the K-Town girls team used to be would be a nice start.

And if they can recreate the magic that happened in 2001, when the Cougars stormed to the 5A finals with Ostberg as coach and Williams (then Hillam) as one of four all-staters, then that would be ideal.

"We want it to be great," Williams said. "I would love to start building a program where we have depth and we have people wanting to be here (and) we have people who look at Kearns and think, 'Look at what they have."'

It's early into the preseason, but people are probably starting to look. So far, both Cougar squads have winning records and winning streaks. The Kearns boys are 3-1, having won three in a row, while the girls are 2-1 after dropping their opener.

Helping his guys start winning consistently, Ostberg said after a road win at East last week, will require them to try to really understand hoops.

"I think," he said, "we have to become better students of the game — be serious and passionate about learning basketball, not (just) about playing basketball."

One challenge both coaches have this year is trying to reach new heights without much height.

Being in the competitive Region 3 isn't going to help matters, either.

Here's a quick look at each team:

BOYS: Ostberg wants his players to think of hoops as being similar to the Game of Kings.

"The chess game of basketball," he said, "that's what (mind-set) they need to get."

This means that strategy plays as much, if not more, a role in winning than simply shooting. The hard part for the Cougars, who only won five games last season, is that they appear to be playing with mostly pawns, size-wise at least.

Seven of the 14 players on their varsity roster are between 5-foot-7 and 5-11, including their three top scorers. Kearns' only two returning starters, Jay Peters (12.5 points per game) and Jeremy Falk (12.75 ppg), are both 5-11 guards/swingmen, while third-leading scorer Jordan Knighton, a point guard, is only 5-8. Isaac Vigil, another guard who's chipping in 5.5 ppg, is only 5-7.

As if their diminutive roster isn't enough of a challenge, their tallest starter, 6-4 R.J. Tialavea, is playing the post for the first time after having previously played guard.

That's where the chess part comes in. The Kearns players will have to use their quicks, excellent ball-handling skills, good outside shooting, and tricky screens and cuts to "neutralize" towering opponents.

Ostberg relishes the challenge.

"I like having a small team against big teams," he said, "because all logic says you shouldn't be successful and I believe we will. I believe we will."

So far he's been encouraged at how the Cougars are bonding.

"The main core of our team is getting pretty tight," he said. "They trust each other."

So, does that all add up to the first winning season in what he calls "a long time" at Kearns?

"This group," Ostberg said, "I think they could learn to play the game well enough to play with anybody and to have a chance to win."

Tialavea, who quarterbacked the Cougars' football team to the playoffs for the first time in a while, believes so.

"Just like we've been doing — just keep shooting the ball, making shots, team unity," he said. "We've got what it takes. We can go far — as far as we want. We've just got to work as a team."

Peters also believes the Cougars can continue turning their perceived disadvantage into an advantage. One key, he added, is that Kearns needs to improve from the charity stripe.

"I think that we have good ballhandlers and we shoot the ball pretty well," Peters said, "but if we make it from the free-throw line that'll win us close games."

They also need to keep lighting it up from the outside. Falk is seventh in 5A with 2.5 3-pointers per game, while Knighton (1.75 treys) and Vigil (1.5) are also in the top 20.

GIRLS: The Kearns girls ended last season with a bitter taste in their mouths. They battled to win the region's third and final seed for the playoffs, but then they dropped a close one to Timpanogos in the first round.

It was the sixth year in a row the Cougars didn't make it past Round 1 of the playoffs after several years of excelling in the postseason. Brooke Larsen, a junior who's one of Kearns' key players, said her team is using that loss to the Timberwolves as motivation.

"It just made me more hungry to come out and play this year," Larsen said. "I couldn't wait until the season started. I want to play Timpanogos."

This year, she said, the Cougars want to make it to state, get past the first round and go "even further than that."

To do that, Kearns will have to make up for its lack of height by frazzling opponents with its quickness. The Cougs don't have a player over 6-0.

"We're not a big team, but we're going to be quick," Larsen said. "We can run. No one gets tired easy."

Offensively, Williams, in her second year, says the Cougars will have to have good rotation, shoot well, control the game flow and "stay calm and composed." On the other end, she said the Cougars will be physical and change their defensive looks to fluster taller teams.

"We're going to play really good, hard defense," said Williams, who was known for her standout defense when she played for Kearns.

Shannon DeLaMare, a 6-0 center, and the 5-11 Larsen are the Cougars' biggest threats down low as well as the only returning starters. Larsen is the team's most lethal scorer.

Christen Lopez will handle Kearns' point guard duties despite being a sophomore. Williams touts her playmaker's "good court vision."

"She's a pretty key player," Williams said. "Even though she's young, she's pretty solid."

The Cougars will also rely on the contributions of swingman Ashley Hillam, guard Aleshia Valdez and forward Christina Anderson.

The team is optimistic it can become a 5A force again. The players believe having Williams, who learned from Ostberg, is a step in the right direction.

"She's bringing it back," Larsen said.

Kearns Cougars boys basketball

Class: 5A

League: Region 3

Least season: 5-16, 0-10 in region

Predicted 2007-08 region finish: Sixth

Head coach: Bob Ostberg, fourth year

Key players: Jeremy Falk, guard; Jay Peters, guard; Jordan Knighton, guard; Isaac Vigil, guard; R.J. Tialavea, center

Boys games

Nov. 28 — Skyline 52, Kearns 41

Nov. 30 — Kearns 66, West 64

Dec. 4 — Kearns 64, East 55

Dec. 7 — Kearns at Hillcrest, 7 p.m.

Dec. 13 — Kearns vs. TBA (at N.M.), TBA

Dec. 14 — Kearns vs. TBA (at N.M.), TBA

Dec. 15 — Kearns vs. TBA (at N.M.), TBA

Dec. 19 — Kearns at Pleasant Grove, 7 p.m.

Dec. 28 — Union at Kearns, 3 p.m.

Jan. 4 — Taylorsville at Kearns, 7 p.m.

Jan. 8 — Lehi at Kearns, 7 p.m.

Jan. 11 — Kearns at Copper Hills, 7 p.m.

Jan. 15 — Bingham at Kearns, 7 p.m.

Jan. 18 — Kearns at Hunter, 7 p.m.

Jan. 22 — West Jordan at Kearns, 7 p.m.

Jan. 25 — Riverton at Kearns, 7 p.m.

Feb. 1 — Copper Hills at Kearns, 7 p.m.

Feb. 5 — Kearns at Bingham, 7 p.m.

Feb. 8 — Hunter at Kearns, 7 p.m.

Feb. 15 — Kearns at Riverton, 7 p.m.

Feb. 20 — Kearns at West Jordan, 7 p.m.

Kearns Cougars girls basketball

Class: 5A

League: Region 3

Least season: 10-11, 5-5 in region, lost in first round

Predicted 2007-08 region finish: Third

Head coach: Emily Williams, second year

Key players: Brooke Larsen, forward; Shannon DeLaMare, center; Christen Lopez, guard; Ashley Hillam, swing; Aleshia Valdez, guard; Christina Anderson, forward

Girls games

Nov. 20 — Lone Peak 58, Kearns 39

Nov. 29 — Kearns 42, Spanish Fork 41

Dec. 7 — Taylorsville at Kearns, 7 p.m.

Dec. 11 — Kearns at Jordan, 7 p.m.

Dec. 14 — Granger at Kearns, 7 p.m.

Dec. 19 — Kearns vs. TBA (at Farmington, N.M.), TBA

Dec. 20 — Kearns vs. TBA (at Farmington, N.M.), TBA

Dec. 21 — Kearns vs. TBA (at Farmington, N.M.), TBA

Dec. 28 — Kearns at Northridge, 4 p.m.

Jan. 3 — Kearns at Hillcrest, 7 p.m.

Jan. 8 — Riverton at Kearns, 7 p.m.

Jan. 10 — Copper Hills at Kearns, 7 p.m.

Jan. 15 — Kearns at Bingham, 7 p.m.

Jan. 17 — Hunter at Kearns, 7 p.m.

Jan. 24 — Kearns at West Jordan, 7 p.m.

Jan. 29 — Kearns at Riverton, 7 p.m.

Jan. 31 — Kearns at Copper Hills, 7 p.m.

Feb. 5 — Bingham at Kearns, 7 p.m.

Feb. 7 — Kearns at Hunter, 7 p.m.

Feb. 12 — West Jordan at Kearns, 7 p.m.

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