Our teams have always had that ability, it seems like, to shut other teams down when we’ve had to. Tonight was an exceptional job again. —Panguitch coach Curtis Barney
RICHFIELD — Curtis Barney knew he had a special group of players after he watched them get trounced by a club team in sixth grade.
“We took them down and played a club team and got beat (by) 20,” Barney said after the top-ranked Bobcats earned their third consecutive 1A state basketball title with a 34-19 win over second-ranked Duchesne. “We got in the car, and most girls would say, ‘We don’t want to do that again.’ My girls said, ‘Let’s go home and practice and come do this again.’ That’s how they’ve been this past six years — fighters.”
The team is unique for a small-town program for a lot of reasons, but maybe most importantly for its dominance. In three years, the Bobcats have lost just two games.
“They’ve kind of changed the way Panguitch played basketball,” Barney said. “Up tempo, fast-paced, putting lots of points on the board, and yet, still able to play defense like they can. That’ll be hard to match at Panguitch again.”
He credited the team's height, speed, shooters and ball handlers.
“(We) kind of had everything,” Barney said. “It allowed us to compete at all levels in Utah, so it was something special for us.”
The Bobcats had enough depth that it was difficult for most teams to even stay within striking distance. Duchesne started the game with a defense that left guard Brieann Birch open. She said her coaches told her to expect as much, as she’s not usually one of the team’s top scoring threats.
“That’s pretty much what we planned on happening,” said Birch who finished with eight points. “They’re actually smart for sagging off of me. We just knew we had to step it up after that.” She said she wasn’t nervous because her teammates told her they had faith in her.
“My team is always saying they have confidence in me,” she said. “They believed in me, so I could believe in myself.”
Duchesne head coach Eric Jessen said he tried a number of different defensive plans, but Panguitch managed to deal with all of them. The Eagles struggled to rebound and get any points in the paint.
“It didn’t matter what we ran,” Jessen said. “We were just flat. Curtis has to be complimented because he does with that good group of girls what should be done, and he’s sustained it over time. That’s tough because it’s easy to get lazy and get complacent, and he has never done that.”
Still, he said he was proud of the season his team enjoyed.
“I’m really happy,” he said, as his players accepted the second-place trophy. “That’s a great group of girls I have. I am nothing but happy. We can’t hang our heads.”
The Eagles were led by Melissa Robinson, who scored six points.
The Bobcat defense was so stifling they held the team’s leading scorer, Mashaylee Giles, who scored 23 points in the semifinal win, to just two points. A large part of Panguitch’s ability to outrebound the Eagles was thanks to Chesney Campbell and Taylor Bennett.
Campbell, the 1A tournament MVP, was the only player from either team in double figures. She finished with 12 points, while senior guard Whittni Orton added nine points.
Barney said he felt like the team struggled after a late-season loss to region rival Bryce Valley, but they got stronger as the tournament progressed. He credited the team’s commitment to defense.
“Our teams have always had that ability, it seems like, to shut other teams down when we’ve had to,” he said. “Tonight was an exceptional job again.”
The long-time coach was emotional as he clutched the game ball and talked about what his team had accomplished for itself, the community and him.
“Back in 2006-07, we had seven (championships) in coaching,” he said. “I kind of set my goal in my mind to hit number 10. Tonight was 10, so I am a little emotional.”
It was also the realization that he’s saying goodbye to one of the most successful groups he’s ever coached.
“I started with these girls in fourth or fifth grade,” he said, his voice cracking. “This group of seniors is another reason it’s emotional. They're done. There will never quite be a team like that again at Panguitch High School — just an incredible bunch of girls.”
When asked what he’ll remember most about the group, he didn't hesitate:
“Their will to win.”