TAYLORSVILLE — Learning to let an opposing player smash into her while standing stone still wasn’t easy for Emily Larsen.
“At the beginning of the season, I flinched sometimes,” said the senior, whose ability to take a charge helped Copper Hills make history with their first semifinal win in school history — a 51-34 victory over Lone Peak in Friday’s 6A semifinal. “But my coaches helped me, and they just talk to me about it and said it's a mindset and just be in the moment.”
For the senior center, it wasn’t anything special. For her team, the three charging fouls she drew in the fourth quarter provided key defensive stops and massive momentum shifts against a physical, fast, relentless Lone Peak team.
“There's nothing that inspires us more than taking a charge … because the size of our team,” said head coach Ben Morley. “We're not a big team, so the way that we defend the basket is not with shot blockers; we don't have the length. We defend the basket with our help rotations. No matter how much you drill it in practice, it takes a special kind of player that is willing to step up and sacrifice their body. … And (Emily) can't even sit down right now because her tail bone is so sore.”
Larsen took three charges in Copper Hills’ quarterfinal win, and then three more charges to help her team make history. Still, she said was simply doing whatever she could to help her team get to that championship game on Saturday.
“It’s really all about the little things,” she said. “That’s our big emphasis.”
Larsen said her contributions were no more important than any of those made by her teammates. They succeed by doing for each other what they might not want to do for themselves.
“What you're thinking about is, ‘This is gonna help my team,’” she said. “If I can take that charge for my team, I'm going to do it. You don't care about your body; you sacrifice yourself for your team. It's all about the team.”
Larsen said the semifinal game has been bittersweet as she and her teammates have played in it the last three years, always coming out on the losing end.
“It feels awesome,” Larsen said. “Honestly, I'm just emotional about it just because it's just so good to get to this game. I'm excited to get one more chance to play with my team.”
Morley said the team, which is the top-scoring offense in the state, had to rely on its defense to earn the program’s first semifinal win.
“I just couldn't be more proud of this group of girls and the way they battled through the adversity that they that they faced out there,” Morley said. “And it's, you know, been a process of getting better as as a team and just getting to this point where we can finally punch through in this last game. I feel lucky that I have one more day with this team.”
He said the team didn’t discuss the fact that they’d never won a semifinal game.
“To other people, it might have been an issue or something they talked about it, but we didn't even mention that it,” he said. “It was one more obstacle between us and getting to that championship game and that was the goal. Our goal all year long has not been to get past the semifinals; it's been to win the championship. So we're still hungry and we've got one more game.”
Still, for Morley, who led the effort to build the program from mediocrity to a perennial contender, it is a moment that causes some reflection.Comment on this story
“I can't argue that it's not nice, not only for our team, but for the players who have gone before, who've done their part in building our program, and it's taken a while,” he said. “It's pretty easy to go from bad to good. It's really hard to go from good to great. So I'm really happy for not only the girls, but the school and the community that we represent because it is a seminal moment in that regard. But again, at the same time, we're still short of our goal. So I'll be a lot prouder and happier when we reach that goal 24 hours from now.”
Copper Hills will take on Bingham, a team they beat in a close pre-season contest, after the Miners upset top-ranked, defending 6A champion Fremont in the other semifinal game.