OREM — Through 24 games this season, the Salem Hills Skyhawks were simply sensational. Under head coach Kyle Francom, they racked up 23 wins to just one defeat, a blemish that came on Jan. 9 at Mountain View High School.
Seventeen of those victories came by double-digits, including the final seven games of their season, a stretch that included three state tournament games.
The Skyhawks had also taken down higher classification teams during the year, teams like Timpview, Westlake and Wasatch, and were considered the odds on title favorite entering the state tournament.
As is the case with any season-ending tournament, Salem Hills’s entire season came down to one game, the state championship game, played Saturday morning at UVU’s UCCU Center.
Pitted against the No. 2 seeded Hurricane Tigers, whom Francom described as “a great team,” the Skyhawks left nothing to chance and, for the first time in the 10-year history of Salem Hills High School, are state champs.
Led by their once-in-a-decade, if not longer, star Lauren Gustin, who capped off an incredible senior campaign with 32 points and 13 rebounds, Salem Hills soundly defeated Hurricane 57-35.
Senior Hailey Johnson added 10 points, six rebounds and six assists for the Skyhawks, playing by far her best contest of the postseason.
“We worked so hard for so long, all year, for this moment, and it is honestly so amazing right now,” said Gustin. “It is so great to be a part of the best team in school history, especially senior year. I couldn’t have asked for a better finish.”
“It’s huge,” Francom added of the title. “Salem is such a great community. Salem and the surrounding area, they are so great. They support us like you wouldn’t believe. This is our ten-year anniversary for the school, and this is an awesome way to celebrate it.”
As was the case in their semifinal victory over Logan, and, in, truth most of their victories this season, the game was decided by the Skyhawks' defense.
After leading by just a point, 9-8, after the first quarter, Salem Hills outscored the Tigers 31-9 over next two periods. The Skyhawks held the Tigers, who came into the game boasting one of the best offenses in the classification (Hurricane had the 8th-best scoring offense in 4A this season), to just seven points in the second quarter and an incredible two points in the third.
Per Francom, it was the slightest of defensive adjustments that made all the difference.
“We told them all year just to stay together. We didn’t panic (when the game was close). We tried to approach it as any other game and make adjustments when we needed to,” said Francom.
“(Jayden) Langford is a tough kid. (Madi Hirschi) has hit 48 three’s on the year, a few more now I think. Hurricane is so well coached and they execute so well that we had a lot to worry about. We just made a few adjustments defensively, we changed how we were guarding ball screens, and I thought that made a big difference for us.”
Those adjustments, coupled with Gustin’s exploits, she scored 18 points in the second half, were all the Skyhawks needed. When they final whistle blew, they were officially, finally, state champs.
“I am so proud of them,” said Francom.
“I think we just worked so hard for this,” added Gustin. “All of us gave 110 percent every single play, every practice. We deserve this.”