Talent doesn’t guarantee success.
In fact, greatness is as much about all the intangibles an athlete possesses as it is about individual ability. This year’s Most Valuable Players possessed remarkable talent and outstanding skills.
But more importantly, they all had the ability to be more important to their teams than the stats might indicate. They were leaders, cheerleaders, confidants and coaches. They were willing to sacrifice whatever necessary so the team could enjoy success, and that made them not just important to their programs, but critical to their teams’ success.
Emma Calvert, Fremont
Lisa Dalebout gets “butterflies” thinking about the fact that she’ll be coaching Emma Calvert for three more seasons.
“I’ve been hearing about Emma for a long time,” she said, diagramming the ways their lives intersected before the Plain City teen began high school at Fremont.
“I got to see her play for the first time in sixth grade,” Dalebout said. “She was obviously really oversized, but she had really good dexterity, really good control of her body.” Most impressive was the young forward’s ability to handle a basketball.
“She has really soft, really great hands,” Dalebout said of the 6-foot-4 center. “She’s a special player, and you know that when she does things in practice, and you’re like, ‘Whoa!’”
Calvert is acutely aware of where she is on the court, and what she needs to do to score, rebound or defend.
“She loves the game,” Dalebout said. “She works hard, and she’s a great rebounder. I’m really lucky to coach a girl like her.”
Calvert puts in extra time, and while she still has a lot to learn, she also exhibits one of the attributes all successful people possess — gratitude.
“She has thanked me every single day,” Dalebout said. “From the days when she’d come into our gym for these little camps to open gym and high school practices, she always tells me thank you.”
It is rare, and it is usually the mark of successful player.
“As a teacher, you remember these kids,” she said, “and I tell my son all the time, ‘You remember those kids who always say thank you.’ She is a really good ball player, and for her age, for her era, she is just really refreshing.”
There haven’t been a lot of doubters in Calvert’s life, so confidence isn’t an issue.
“She’s been told, since about age six, that she’s going to be the best ever,” Dalebout said. “But she’s still really coachable, really humble, and seeing that incredible confidence with that humility, it gives me great hope.”
Liana Kaitu’u, East
When East high lost one of their forwards to injury early in the season, Laina Kaitu’u came to her coach and volunteered to play a position that would limit what she could do on the court.
“She was playing wing for us,” said head coach Olosaa Solovi. “She came to me and said she’ll do whatever we needed for us to win. She played a four as a freshman, and we moved her to a three to utilize her athleticism. She was so unselfish because she volunteered to play a position that would hurt her recruiting. She knew scouts wanted to see her outside, wanted to see her shooting out there. But she said, ‘I just want us to win.’” To do that, Solovi had to move her into the paint.
The long-time football coach said it was an unusual experience to have a player put her team’s success ahead of her own opportunities.
“I’ve never really experienced that,” he said. “I’ve never had someone come to me and say, ‘Hey this will hurt my numbers, my stats, but I’m going to move to a position that will help the team. It was crucial for us, for her to make that move.”
It helped the Leopards earn the 5A state title. It was a remarkable run, especially considering the team won just eight games two years ago.
Key in the program’s turnaround is the Solovi’s guidance and the skill and leadership provided by Kaitu’u and the team’s other senior captain Lealani Falatea.
“Any issues that came up, they just took care of business,” he said. “I thought (Kaitu’u) matured, mostly as a leader throughout the season. Her stats are lower because she made that move, but what matured was just her leadership.” She averaged 11.4 points and 6.24 rebounds per game. That was three points per game less than the year before, but it was more than double the number of rebounds that she averaged as a junior.
Solovi said the hole she leaves in the program will not be easily filled. Kaitu’u is an honor student, and the two-sport athlete is still deciding where she will play basketball next season.
“We lose that poise to take big shots,” he said. “That’s one of the biggest things we’re going to have to replace. Her leadership and her ability on the court. But just the willingness to take those shots, and of course, she makes them. She always defended the other team’s toughest player. She could defend one through five.”
Tahlia White, Mountain View
Maybe it’s being the second-oldest of seven children, but Tahlia White isn’t a typical leader.
“Tahlia is a very caring kid,” said head coach Alexis Kaufusi of the BYU-bound guard. “She loves everyone on our team. She’s got such a big heart, and she is very in tune with all of her teammates. She likes to make sure everyone is ok.”
A three-year starter, White average 23.6 points per game, including 2.23 3-pointers per contest. Her teammates relied on her as they tied for the region title and made it to the 4A quarterfinals.
“She’s kind of been our go-to player,” Kaufusi said. “She does it all. She can play any position, and she knows the plays for every position. It’s been a lot of fun getting to coach a kid with that kind of versatility.”
White, who played point guard last season but spent most of this season at wing, even had to take over as one of the Bruins’ post players after they lost a starter to a knee injury.
“She never complained,” Kaufusi said. “She just did whatever we needed her to do. She’s such a team player.”
A two-sport athlete, White’s strength is the ferocity of her play. “She is so powerful,” Kaufusi said. “She just did what she needed to do. When she attacks the basket, she had so much power, she’d take defenders with her. She’s so powerful, and in that first step, she is so fast it was hard for anyone to stop her.”
White works just as hard off the court, maintaining a 4.0 GPA.
“Anything she does, she does it very well,” Kaufusi said. “She’s been so much fun to coach. She came off the bench her freshman year, and she’s been the team MVP three years in a row. When she leaves, she leaves some really big shoes to fill.”
Megan Jensen, Emery
Megan Jensen is talented enough that she could have spent some time coasting and still helped the Spartans to the 3A state title.
But that is not the way the junior post player is wired.
“She is a captain,” said head coach Lynn Tuttle of Jensen’s role on the team. “The other girls out on the floor look up to her. She never takes any plays off, and she’s always encouraging.”
The junior post player who averaged 17.7 points and 7.65 rebounds per game was key to the Spartans' 3A championship run for what she can do athletically, as well as what she offered to her teammates emotionally.
“She packed us,” Tuttle said of how Jensen helped the Spartans achieve a 25-1 record. “She’s just a phenomenal player. Opposing teams had so much trouble preparing for us because she could score down low, and then we had some talented guards who are really good shooters, and they’d hit from the outside.”
A 4.0 student, Jensen’s greatest strength was her ability to finish.
“She’s so polished,” Tuttle said. “She can go left or right with no difference, and just her ability to finish at the rim.”
Jensen is relentless in her support of her teammates, regardless of what’s happening on the court.
“She’s always trying to build them up,” he said. “She never gets discouraged with them. She’s never, ever gotten after another girl for a mistake.”
Jensen, who played volleyball and will compete in the high jump this spring, will return to lead next year’s team, which graduates just one senior, in defense of the 2018 title.
“Next year we should be extremely strong and ready to do it again,” Tuttle said, noting that they will again rely on Jensen’s skill and leadership. “She’s played quite a bit, starting since she was a sophomore. She’s always been an athletic player, and she just has a feel for the ball.”
Kynlee Penney, Millard
While pressure causes some players to buckle, Kynlee Penney embraced it as another opportunity.
“When it was crunch time, Kynlee was the one who wanted the ball,” said Millard head girls basketball coach Melanie Bassett. “She thrived off of the pressure and welcomed it with open arms. Throughout the season she grew not necessarily in skills, but by becoming a team player and a leader. She would encourage and lift her teammates when they were down on themselves, having an off night.”
A versatile point guard, Penney averaged 14.6 points per game, leading the Eagles with the ability to hit a 3-pointer or drive to the basket.
“Kynlee can see the opportunities the defense would giver her,” Bassett said. “She was a threat outside with her 3-point game, but could handle the ball really well and drive on you if you gave her any open lane.”
An honor student, who exudes joy, it’s tough to find Penney without a smile.
“She is kind to everyone and will include anyone around her,” said her coach. Penney led Millard to a 2A title with her playmaking ability and leadership.
“She was one of the five starting seniors on the team,” Bassett said. “She was our main point guard and was the player we wanted to bring the ball down the court. She has great knowledge of the game, which helped her in being a great playmaker on the court.”
Whatever talent Penney brought to the court, she was able to bring out the best in her teammates, as well.
“Kynlee is an outstanding player who lives for the game, instilling that passion to those around her,” Bassett said.
Penney will play at Feather River College in California next season.
Brittney Henrie, Panguitch
It was the look in her eyes that told Panguitch head basketball coach Curtis Barney that Brittney Henrie was the kind of leader who wouldn’t let her team lose.
Last year, as the team was struggling in a consolation game against Monticello, Henrie leaned over to her coach and said, “Coach, this is not how I want my season to end,” Barney recalled the junior guard saying. “I immediately put her in. I could see the desire in her eyes as she willed our team to a victory on that final day. I knew at that point that she was a competitor and one of the captains for the future.”
Actually, Barney had an inkling that Henrie was something special long before she helped Panguitch in that consolation game or in the 2017-18 campaign in which they earned the 1A state championship.
“I live just across the street from Brittney and have watched her for years as a young girl (who) put in many hours shooting and dribbling in her driveway,” Barney said. “You could see her on a cold snowy day out shooting, like maybe she had made a goal to put in time each and every day. I would think to myself many times, ‘She is going to be a good one.’ She has spent countless hours with her dad and myself working on her game. She is proof that a lot of hard work and dedication can pay off.”
As the Bobcats tried to earn that 1A state title, they relied on not only Henrie’s leadership and athletic ability but also her the leadership and skill of guard Kapri Orton.
“Brittney’s greatest strength for our team was the ability to stretch the defense and hit the outside shot,” Barney said. “She’s one of those players that you expect to make everything shot that she shoots.”
While Henrie led the team in rebounds, steals assists and 3-pointers made (64), she also averaged 14 points per game. Orton led the team in scoring with 16 points per game, and they were an almost unbeatable duo for the Bobcats.
“Kapri was so quick at breaking down the defense and going to the basket with her speed, and Brittney would go to the 3-point line, ready to score when the defense (collapsed) on Kapri. The guard combination of Kapri Orton and Brittney Henrie is as good as it gets in basketball.”
No one recognized the strength of teamwork more than Henrie.
“Brittney will be the first one to tell you the team is what really matters,” Barney said. “And none of this recognition could happen without unselfish teammates who understand their role and how important every aspect of the game is for the team to be successful.”