Seventy-two of the top teams in the nation converged on Phoenix in the Nike Tournament of Champions last weekend in five different divisions, including five teams from Utah County.
Though some of those teams enjoyed success in some rounds of the tournament, all five finished with losses in the end, but the coaches all agreed that it was an important learning experience for their teams to go down and play against some of the toughest competition imaginable.
Among the five teams they managed five wins against 13 losses, and the Timpview T-Birds secured two of those victories in the first two days of the tournament.
The T-Birds counted on BYU-bound Alexis Kaufusi in the first two rounds of the tournament as she scored 15 points, and the team only lost five turnovers in its first matchup against Red Mountain in the victory. She then came back with a monster game as she pulled down nine boards, swatted three blocks and drained 21 points in their close victory against Horizon.
Those two victories put the T-Birds into the semifinals of the blue division, guaranteeing them at least a fourth-place finish in a 16-team field.
"We started to settle in in the second quarter (against Horizon) and got into a rhythm. We played very well against their good players and made the other players beat us," said Timpview coach Kawika Akina, who was happy with the first two rounds and a little disappointed in the pair of rounds after that.
On day three his team found foul trouble and ran into Jenae Coffee, a huge post from Clovis West, who racked up 33 points on Timpview, leading the T-Birds into the 12-point loss and sending them into the third-place game instead of on to the championship. Clovis West went on to win the entire division.
And, like the other teams that joined the T-Birds in Arizona, Timpview found itself with tired legs and a lax shooting touch on the final day, dropping its last game to Brea-Olinda in a blowout but still leaving with a sense of accomplishment and a fourth-place finish.
Mountain View, the T-Birds' new Region 7 rivals, ran into some real trouble right from the beginning as the Bruins dropped their first game to Chatsworth.
Mountain View coach Laura Romo then noted how the speed at this tournament is a little faster than that of most teams they see and how the referees at the tourney "let them play."
"We had to learn to step it up and fight for it. This was a great learning experience for the girls," Romo noted after that first game.
And they learned a bit of a lesson, coming out strong against Mountain Pointe in the second round ready to play. Katrina Stoddard and Megan Goodman led the Bruins in their victory with 10 points apiece, making their coach a little more happy with the intensity and the balance.
But her happiness was short-lived as she watched the Bruins lose a tough one to Basha, only scoring 22 points in the process. Though the defense was impressive, "we've gotta find a way to put the ball in the hole," Romo said, and that became a typical refrain from all of the Utah County coaches for the rest of the tournament.
Mountain View again came out and lost in the final game to McKinleyville, taking home 12th place in the gold division.
Those two teams and American Leadership Academy all began play on Wednesday, taking the courts four times each, but ALA couldn't find a victory in the tournament and wound up in 16th place in only its second year of existence.
The team was led by Cassandra Ascencio, who has been the ALA leader all year long.
And the three teams were joined by Lone Peak and Timpanogos on Thursday, as the two schools from Region 4 played in the green division in an eight-team field that only saw action in three games.
The Knights started off with a bang, winning their first game against Amador Valley on a last-second trey by Shantel Flanary in what turned out to be the most exciting game of the tournament for any of the five teams.
Meanwhile, the T-Wolves lost their first contest to St. Francis in a real blowout, giving up 83 points. But, "we did learn how to break a hard press," said Timpanogos coach Liz Darger after the loss.
But they also lost Amanda Larsen with a broken wrist, and her future this season is still uncertain.
With their lessons learned, the T-Wolves won their second game against Acalanes after jumping on them with an early press and breaking the Acalanes press with little problem. Megan Bishop broke out in Game 2 after hyperextending her knee in the first contest and busted four treys in the win. She swished five more in Timpanogos' next contest and finished with 10 in the tournament.
While the T-Wolves were winning, the Knights were losing their first game of the year to nationally-ranked Centennial High School of Las Vegas. Amanda Farish finished with 12 points, eight rebounds and five assists as she played all five positions in the game.
The Knights then came out and lost their second game of the year the following night as they switched opponents with Timpanogos from the first round and took on St. Francis.
"We had our chances, but we didn't shoot the ball well," said Lone Peak coach Keith Flood, whose team hit only 16-61 from the field in finishing fourth in their division.
"They were an athletic team, and we didn't do a good job settling down and doing what we needed to do. We played two teams here that are probably better than anything we'll see in Utah this year."
He added that overall the trip was positive and his team had learned to play hard against some stiff competition, noting that they have plenty to work on during their two-and-a-half week break.
Timpanogos, meanwhile, lost to Amador Valley, taking sixth place overall."We came down here to learn, and we definitely did. There was an agressive press every game all game," she said, feeling like her team will bring home some new tricks in breaking tough pressing defenses.
Timpview 57 Red Mountain 24
Timpview 55 Horizon, Colo. 49
Clovis West 65 Timpview 48
Brea-Olinda 66 Timpview 25
Chatsworth 64 Mountain View 36
Mountain View 45 Mountain Pointe 34
Basha 31 Mountain View 22
McKinleyville 65 Mountain View 50
George Washington Prep 89 ALA 34
Long Beach Jordan 55 ALA 24
Redwood 68 ALA 47
Bell Gardens 60 ALA 57
Lone Peak 34 Amador Valley 32
Centennial 67 Lone Peak 45
St. Francis 53 Lone Peak 40
St. Francis 85 Timpanogos 42
Timpanogos 46 Acalanes 39