TAYLORSVILLE — As Breaunna Gillen and her Copper Hills teammates took the floor for Wednesday’s 6A quarterfinal against Westlake, they navigated a mixture of nerves, desire and confidence.
“You always get those nerves because it's state,” Gillen said after helping Copper Hills to a 53-36 victory at Salt Lake Community College. “I mean, one game and you're done. But we just knew we came prepared. We are trying to come in with confidence because we had to know our game plan, and we knew what we had to do to win, and that's just what we did. So just confidence and excitement, all nerves, all in one.”
It’s their trust in each other that helped them stay calm through the ups and downs of a high-pressure game.
“We know we can rely on each other,” Gillen said. “And like Eleyana (Tafisi) was saying as a team... we know we can conquer that, and we just need to stay calm in those situations and not get anxious or make any bad plays that could cause us to do worse. Just staying calm and staying together.”
Second-ranked Copper Hills has the highest scoring offense in 6A, but it was the team’s defensive effort that helped them get past a very talented Westlake team.
“I think most coaches would agree,” said Copper Hills head coach Ben Morley, “especially in the state tournament, if you can’t get stops, if you can't take away another team strength... if you don't have a game plan for them, something to make them adjust to, then you stand no chance no matter how many points you score.”
Leading that defensive effort was center Emily Larsen. She finished with 11 points and eight rebounds, but she drew three offensive fouls against the Thunder that provided massive momentum shifts.
“She was huge for us defensively tonight,” Morley said. “(The team) had a tremendous amount of energy. Our focus was on the defensive and yeah, and whatever happens on offense, happens, and our defense definitely, definitely won this game.”
The Grizzlies’ offense was led by Gillen, who scored 19 points, and Lenisi Fineanganofo, who finished with 13 points and seven rebounds. Tafisi added six points, six assists and five steals. Westlake was paced by Ashley Parry, who scored eight points, while Susan Fano added seven points.
Morley said the team’s friendship helps them keep each other comfortable, even in the most difficult situations.
“They like each other so much,” he said of their chemistry. “They get along and then play together for so long. And there's sort of a loose kind of feel, like I don't think that's entirely a bad thing. The challenge for us as coaches is to kind of balance out with focus and effort and tonight we did that.”Comment on this story
Copper Hills will play Lone Peak in Friday’s semifinals, and that’s a round that’s broken their hearts multiple times. Are they worried about it? Not at all.
“It’s just another opportunity to be one game away from the championship game and every team and every year is different,” Morley said. “I've been at Copper Hills for a few years, so we've established kind of a culture that we hope will continue, but even with that, the dynamic of this team is different than last year's team. And our opponent will be different. The only thing that is the same is that's the third game of the tournament.”