I feel so happy, like way happy. —Kynlee Penney
RICHFIELD — For much of the season, let alone the state tournament, senior Kynlee Penney was the engine that powered the Millard Eagles. When she played, they were one of the best teams in the classification, racking up a 15-7 overall record with a 9-3 mark in Region 18.
When she didn’t, as was the case when the Eagles hosted and lost to the Enterprise Wolves on Jan. 4, they struggled, often in a real way.
Through the semifinals of the state tournament, Penney had been spectacular. In the quarterfinals, against the Layton Christian Academy Eagles, she scored a game-high 23 points and lifted her team almost singlehandedly to the next round.
The next day she was even better, scoring 28 points against region rival Kanab, gifting the Eagles a chance at their first state title.
For large portions of Saturday night’s championship game against Enterprise, however, she struggled.
Fortunately for Penney, as well as Eagles fans, her teammates picked up the slack at Sevier Valley Center.
Payton Miller scored 11 points, including the final point of the contest, Megan Wade chipped in four points, as did Kobree Penney, and Millard defeated Enterprise 47-41 for their first ever state title.
“I feel so happy, like way happy,” said Penney, who finished with 16 points of her own, including eight in the fourth quarter.
“It means everything (to win with this team). We have worked so hard and put in an a lot of time for this sport and from the beginning (of the season) we said we were going to take state. We did it! We finally did it.”
“This is surreal,” said Millard head coach Melanie Bassett. “It’s awesome. These girls did so good, and they have fought for this for a long time.”
"Fight" was the operative word Saturday night as the Wolves gave the Eagles everything they could handle.
Despite coming into the contest extremely confident, Penney noted that she “knew from the very beginning that we were going to win. As soon as we got on the bus,” the Eagles started slow and looked less than their normal selves.
“It wasn’t pretty,” said Bassett.
After falling behind by as many as six points in the early moments of the second quarter, trailing 13-8, Millard seemed on the verge of collapse.
Instead, led by Wade and Kobree, they battled back within three points, that is until Miller trained a buzzer-beating three-pointer to tie the game at 18 heading into halftime.
“I was super-nervous,” said Wade. “They are a super good team, they hustle a lot and have a lot of talent. I thought we were going to come out strong, but we were kind of slow at first. We kept pushing and fighting though.”
The fight continued into the fourth; the teams were locked at 25 points apiece at the end of the third, and it was from there that Penney began to look like herself.
She drilled a go-ahead 3-pointer mere moments into the frame and soon after netted a midrange jumper and a small barrage of free throws that combined to give the Eagles all the separation they would need.
“I think it was just nerves,” Penney said of her initial struggles. “I felt a little pressure. I felt like I did ok (by the end).”
“We weren’t worried about Kynlee,” added Wade. “We just had to pick up the slack. It was on us.”
“This means the world,” she continued. “(Winning state) is everything. We have been playing together since fifth grade and have always dreamed about this and it is finally here.”