Each of the five girls basketball state championship teams had a player who was relentless in her pursuit to improve for the sake of her team. She was the first player to practice, the last one to leave, and never let frustrating losses or devastating injuries keep her from moving forward.
Whether her team dominated throughout the season or went on an unexpected run at state tournament time, each of these players was a key factor in her team cutting down the nets at the end of the year. And it was that role that earned each of them the title of MVP for their respective classifications.
Amanda Wayment, Fremont
When Fremont coach Lisa Dalebout first saw Wayment play as a freshman, she knew the forward was going to be good. What she did not know at the time, however, was just how much of an impact the now 6-foot-1 senior would have on girls basketball at Fremont High.
Now, at the end of Wayment's high school basketball career, she has left a lasting impact on the Plain City school, one that includes the Silver Wolves' first-ever girls basketball state championship and a Utah team's first-ever trip to the Dick's Sporting Goods High School National Tournament.
"She is one of those program-changers," Dalebout said. "She has played a big part in elevating this program, and it will stay that way for years."
Much of Wayment's impact has come through her work ethic, an unyielding focus on getting better and playing smarter, traits Dalebout attributes to the senior's "farming background and blue-collar values."
"She gets the most out of her talents because she is one of the hardest-working, most-committed kids I've coached," Dalebout said. "She has a way of getting to the hoop. She's one of the best offensive rebounders I've seen."
During her senior season, Wayment averaged 14.9 points per game, committed to play at the next level for BYU, recorded nine points and nine rebounds in the 5A title game, and went to work expanding her shooting range to prepare for her next stage.
"As the years have gone," Dalebout said, "from her sophomore year to her senior year, she has improved more than most. She has been a fantastic teammate and has done so much for Fremont."
Savannah Park, Springville
Midway through her senior season, Park was hit with adversity.
In the middle of December, she went down with a severely sprained ankle when she planted her foot funny and adjusted to relieve pressure on her knee.
"She missed three games with that high-ankle sprain," said Springville coach Camie Oakey. "During that stretch, we really missed her."
With two state championships and a runner-up finish already under her belt, Park was the team's senior leadership, experience, and court general, all rolled into one 5-foot-4 ball of energy — and she was suddenly sidelined indefinitely.
Whether it was Park's glaring absence from the lineup, during which the Red Devils lost every game plus three more while she got back into her rhythm, or her inspiring fight to return to the floor, the fallout from that misstep made one thing crystal clear: Park was the main cog that made the Springville girls basketball team go.
"She begged to play in the Timpanogos game and she could hardly walk," Oakey said, referring to the Red Devils' loss just five days after the initial injury. "We made her take the Christmas break off and when she came back in January, she had a special metal brace that we had to mail order."
Park scored 10 points that night against Wasatch and the Red Devils began to return to their winning ways.
Over the next two months, Springville won eight of its final nine regular-season games and leaned on Park for a handful of late-game heroics to push her team through the state tournament and back to cutting down the 4A nets for the second straight year.
"I told (her), 'Whatever you do, your teammate will follow,'" Oakey said. "And they did. She's a leader; she's competitive; and she doesn't get anxious or nervous. She just does what needs to be done."
In spite of her time on the injured list, Park, a four-year starter, still led her team with 13.6 points per game.
Blair Bliss, Desert Hills
Bliss decided early on that the Desert Hills Thunder were going to win the 3A state title. And as coach Chris Allred said, when Bliss makes up her mind, she follows through.
"She is one of the most competitive girls I have ever coached," he said. "She is the type of player you want to build your team around — she's not going to let you down."
Bliss led the Thunder through a dominating season, one that included just a single blemish and was highlighted with dramatic victories over 4A and 5A schools.
The senior guard was key in the Thunder's success, not only through scoring points, 12.9 of them per game, but also in passing the ball.
"She did a great job of pushing the ball and finding the open player," Allred said, noting Bliss' 5.1 assists-per-game average.
"Her offense came from the defensive end," he said. "She did a really good job of getting into transition, attacking the basket and distributing the ball."
Bliss also averaged 4.3 rebounds and 3.6 steals per contest, numbers that helped push the Thunder to a team average of 64.7 points per game.
"Blair has always been a great defender and rebounder," Allred said. "This year, offensively she became a better player. She has more confidence, especially with the ball in her hand, and her court vision has improved."
The most important key to her game though: "She provides a lot of energy, she really got our team going."
Riley Lyman, Enterprise
The Enterprise girls basketball team relied on Lyman throughout the season.
It relied on her when it lost four of its first six games of the season. It relied on her when it fell to third place in the Region 13 standings. And it relied on her as it won four straight games, only one of which had a single-digit margin of victory, to capture the 2A state championship.
"She has been the one we have relied on all year," said Enterprise coach Lance Jones. "There were four or five games that came down to the last play and she was always ready to step up in those big moments."
On the defensive end of the floor, Lyman's 6-foot-1 frame poses a problem for opposing offenses. She averaged 9.3 rebounds per game this season along with 2.1 steals every night.
"She's very long and covers a lot of ground," Jones said. "She's got enough length for tips and steals and rebounds. She is a force in the middle."
Meanwhile, Lyman's speed allows her to play an inside-out game on offense.
"I don't know how many times she got a rebound and went coast-to-coast," Jones said of his player who averaged 9.9 points per game. "She can post up, she can shoot over anyone who guards her, and she is quick enough to go around someone bigger."
And the best news: Lyman is just a junior, returning to the Wolves' roster next season in search of another title to take back to Enterprise.
Darri Frandsen, Panguitch
Frandsen was thrown into the Panguitch starting lineup her freshman year. A lone forward on a team full of guards, coach Curtis Barney and the Bobcats desperately needed her in the key.
That first year was tough. Frandsen struggled, and Panguitch won just 10 of 23 games. But with Frandsen's great desire to improve, which often shows itself in her early arrival and late exit from practice, combined with two years of experience, that decision is now paying off in droves.
Frandsen and the Bobcats posted a perfect season, moving unscathed through region and the state tournament en route to the 1A championship.
"She gained a lot of experience and has turned into a great post for us," said Barney. "We knew we needed her to be a good offensive player, so we went to work on post moves. It was important to have a good inside game to go with our outside game."
After averaging just seven points a night during her first season, the 6-foot junior averaged a double-double this past season, scoring 17.7 points and grabbing 10.9 rebounds per game while also blocking shots, altering shots, and offering piece of mind to her guards on the defensive end.Comment on this story
"It allows us to take more chances and be more aggressive on the outside knowing she's back there," Barney said.
With her senior season now in front of her, and every single player returning for Panguitch next season, Frandsen and Barney already have a handful of goals drawn up as they both look to defend their championship and generate opportunities for the forward to play beyond high school.
"We are adding quickness and strength to her defense and a 10-foot jump shot to her offense," Barney said. "I have challenged to her to do that, and I am sure I will find her working on it in a gym somewhere."
Sarah Thomas earned a degree in Mathematics from the University of Utah and is currently pursuing an MBA at Westminster College. She has been covering sports for the Deseret News since 2008.
Photo credits: Jeffrey D. Allred, Scott G Winterton, Deseret News; Trevor Christensen, The Spectrum & Daily News; Chad Hunt, Richfield Reaper