TAYLORSVILLE For Dani Peterson and Jenteal Jackson, there was only one way to finish their high school basketball careers.
"Last year at this time, when we lost in the championship, for those two players, it was just a goal to be here, from that point forward," said Skyline coach Deb Bennett after the Eagles defeated American Fork 60-56 to claim their second 5A state championship in three years at Salt Lake Community College Saturday night. "Probably not a day has gone by that those two players haven't talked about this. They wanted to go out this way."
Those seniors, who will both play for BYU next year, earned a record of 65-7 in three years of high school competition.
"I didn't want to go out my senior year with a loss," said Peterson, who finished with 14 points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots in the game. She earned All-Tournament MVP honors by averaging 17 points and 12 rebounds in the 5A tournament.
Peterson said the team fought through adversity with various injuries and losing games to American Fork (in early January) and region-rival Taylorsville.
"I think it was good to play (the Cavemen) because we knew better what to expect," she said. "It was a struggle to box out, especially near the end of the game, because all five of them rebound."
Bennett worried it would be rebounding that snatched the game from the Eagles in the final minutes.
"Can you say box out?" she said, the net hanging around her neck. "American Fork is a tremendous team. They're the team of the future. They're all young."
In the final 2:20 of the game, the Cavemen earned eight points and got within three points of the Eagles by hauling in offensive rebounds. Then, finally, with just six seconds remaining, sophomore guard Katie Walker grabbed a defensive rebound on a Haley Holmstead shot that was short and she was fouled.
She made one of two free throws to give the Eagles a four-point lead and seal the win.
The most amazing aspect of Walker's ability to hit one of two foul shots was that she had just re-entered the game. A few minutes earlier, she dove for a loose ball and another player dove on her and the incident left her with an upset stomach.
"She ran to the bathroom to throw up," said Bennett. Walker made all but two of her foul shots the entire tournament, and Bennett, adds, "They were all pressure free throws, too."
The game was about as well played and as thrilling as a title game can be, but the Cavemen, who like a fast, furious pace, were unable to play that way in the first half.
"Pretty fun, if you can lose and have fun," said American Fork head coach Corey Clayton. "I'm proud of the effort our kids made. To get down by 10 and have to fight to get back in it, I'm pleased."
He said the team did a better job of applying defensive pressure in the second half, but the Eagles still managed to keep the tempo in their favor enough of the time.
"Jenteal controlled the pace of the game," said Bennett. "She is wise beyond her years. She's cool, calm and poised, and has been since ninth grade."
Jackson finished with a game-high 20 points, four assists and four rebounds, while Walker added 10 points and two steals. Senior forward Upuia Fui chipped in 10 points and six rebounds.
"Dani is fiery and gets the team going," said Bennett. "Dani and Jenteal have done things behind the scenes all week to empower the rest of the team."
Holmstead was outstanding again with 17 points and four assists. Forwards Kaycee Mansfield and Makenzie Moea'i were huge on the boards as Mansfield earned eight rebounds to go with her 18 points, and Moea'i tallied 11 rebounds and 12 points.
Bennett said she didn't feel comfortable until Walker hit that last free throw.
"American Fork is so explosive and they're good at every spot," she said. "I saw that lead dwindling. They caught up because they rebound so well ... I'm just so proud of the way our kids were patient."
Peterson, well after waiting a year for a repeat of her sophomore year's glory, summed the experience up pretty simply."It feels great," she said. "To play in three championships and win two, it doesn't get much better than this."
5A girls all-tourney team
MVP: Dani Peterson, Skyline
Jenteal Jackson, Skyline
Haley Holmstead, Am. Fork
Kaycee Mansfield, Am. Fork
Alle Finch, Riverton
Bev Smith, Jordan