Pressure is an interesting force.
It can take coal and transform it into a diamond. Its weight real or imagined can also crush a person, a team, a community, a dream.
"This game is so mental," said Lone Peak junior Tyler Haws, who was one of the few players who seemed oblivious to the pressure on the Knights this season. "You've got to stay focused; you've got to believe that you're going to win. Whatever it takes, you can't let the pressure get to you."
Easier said than done especially when you're talking about teenagers.
The top-ranked Knights' effort to earn their second straight 5A title Saturday afternoon with a 67-53 win over Bingham seemed much easier than it was. With four Division I college players on the roster, everyone expected them to man-handle even the state's best squads. The Knights were so dominant in region play that even an undefeated Davis team was treated like an underdog when the two squads met Friday in a thrilling semifinal contest.
"Davis is probably one of the best teams we've played in my five years at Lone Peak," said coach Quincy Lewis of the Darts, whom the Knights defeated in double overtime. But even before the game was played, fans and pundits were penciling them in that championship bracket.
Before their championship run, which included three double-digit wins, the Knights were talked about as one of the best high school teams in state history. Lewis just laughs when asked about that.
"I don't think you can say we're the best team ever," he said. "You can say that we're one of the best in the last few years."
Lewis and his assistant coach Brendon Dayton know something about weighty expectations. The pair started for the Timpview team that won the state title in 1988 with a perfect 25-0 record. There was even a newspaper article discussing the possibility that the T-Birds were best high school team ever.
Lewis just smiles and shakes his head at that memory as well.
"My dad was our coach and there was no straying from the path," he said. A strict disciplinarian, he didn't allow the players too much time to pat themselves on the back. And like his father, he had to find a way to help his young players deal with the pressure of success that can fracture a team.
"We had a high level of expectation this season," said Lewis. "It was so heavy on our kids, and we had some issues in December, so we just said we're done with everything outside of us ... We had to stay focused if we wanted to win this year."
That meant putting their 2007 state championship rings in a box before they ever even wore them.
"I wanted them to stay hungry," Lewis said, who handed them out after Saturday's win. "So we put them in a box and said they could have them after we accomplished what we wanted to this season."
That meant no media interviews after the midway point of the season.
"It had nothing to do with any media," Lewis said. "It had to do with trying to manage how one kid felt about the attention another kid was getting. Also, we were ranked in USA Today, on Max Preps ... I just said, 'We have to shut this down.' I was just trying to keep my kids focused on what we had to do."
And what they had to do is something that only one other 5A team has ever done win back-to-back championships. In 1997 and 1998, UHSAA associate director Rob Cuff was the head coach at Mountain View High school. Like Lewis he was a young coach with talented players, four of whom returned from the first state championship team.
And like Lewis, he said that second win is much harder to get but much easier to appreciate."It doesn't just happen," said Cuff. "The pressure is harder on a coach because you can't do anything. You've got to rely on your guys."
Both coaches said that while all you feel is elation in the first title, the second is tinged with as much relief as it is joy.
"The first (championship) was incredible," Lewis said. "But with the expectation this year, there was a part of it that was a little bit of relief. It's tougher to repeat and you appreciate that."
Cuff said Lewis and his players will appreciate that accomplishment even more in years to come.
"How many teams even get to play for a state championship?" said Cuff. "Lone Peak and Mountain View did something that's not really easy to do, especially in the larger classifications."
Provo also won its second straight title in the game immediately after Lone Peak, but coach Craig Drury, who owns the most boys state titles of any coach with eight, said he felt no pressure this season.
"I think I would have felt more pressure if I was returning guys," he said. "But I felt absolutely no pressure."
He did echo what the other coaches said about the emotions of winning multiple titles.
"After all the emotions of a game," Drury said, "You don't have elation ... just kind of relief, relaxation."
Lewis also had some added personal pressure as his wife, Debbie, delivered their third child, first daughter, Maeve, on Sunday morning.
"She was practically in tears at missing this game," he said. "She delivered Sunday morning, we played Monday morning. She told me, 'The kids have worked so hard, enjoy this.' But it just killed her not to be here. The only games she's ever missed are out of state."
Lewis then shakes his head, puts a hand in his pocket and smiles as he exhales."It's been one heck of a week."
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