We’ve been underdogs all season long and I’m not surprised, because I know their drive. I know their intensity and I know their enthusiasm, but it’s so cool to see them work so hard and achieve something. —Lehi coach Aubrey Van Pelt
OREM — From 1-19 a year ago, to the 4A state semifinal round this year. It's just because for celebration, and the Lehi girls basketball team celebrated loudly after its 45-41 win over Desert Hills on Thursday.
Some good momentum entering the half, courtesy of a game-tying 3-pointer from senior Alli Butterfield, and then stellar play throughout the final 16 minutes, and a strong close by Sarah Christopherson all played big in the win. But the bigger factors, according to Lehi coach Aubrey Van Pelt, were due to enduring last season's brutal 19 losses and then using the lessons learned into what happened on Thursday.
“These guys have worked so hard all season long,” Van Pelt said. “We’ve been underdogs all season long and I’m not surprised, because I know their drive. I know their intensity and I know their enthusiasm, but it’s so cool to see them work so hard and achieve something.”
Lehi was led by Apelila Galeai on Thursday, and her game-high 12 points, although several players made solid contributions.
As mentioned, it was Butterfield hitting a 3-pointer at the buzzer to send her team into the half tied 17-17. Those three points proved her only points of the game, although they played huge in garnering momentum for the second half.
“Alli Butterfield is our sixth-man, and she is an energy bunny,” Van Pelt said. “She’s filled that role for us all year long and there’s not one other person on our team that I’d rather like to have seen hit that 3.”
Samantha Lewis followed Butterfield's lead, sinking a 3-pointer for the first points of the second half, while finishing with nine points, on three made 3-pointers. Big baskets also came from freshman twins Macie and Maddison Warren, who scored seven and three points, respectively, while pushing the pace throughout.
“They are two of the most mentally-tough kids I know,” Van Pelt. “ They are absolutely special kids, and they love the game. They don’t back down.”
Desert Hills fought hard throughout and managed to take the lead back at 30-28 entering the fourth quarter before the Pioneers overtook lead for good at 38-37 on bucket made by Christopherson with just over three minutes remaining. The game-clincher came with Christopherson making a lay-up off a lob pass with 30 seconds left, to give the Pioneers a 45-41 lead.
According to Van Pelt, they've worked the same play several times before, although it didn't match the results gained in Thursday's win. But after a timeout, she opted to work it again, with her team again proving resilient enough to make it work when it mattered most.
“You’ve just to try what you’ve (practiced), and what you’ve done,” Van Pelt said.
With the win Lehi is doing what it's seldom done in recent history by advancing to the state semifinal round. But with all the hard lessons learned last year, Van Pelt is confident her players can give it even more of a run before the season is over.
“This year — it’s really just a multiplier effect of last year,” Van Pelt said. “Last year prepared them for this, in every sense.”