Leadership comes in many forms.
Sometimes it’s vocal and flashy, while other times it’s playing without fear or a commitment to and gratitude for the grind. This year’s Deseret News MVPs have different leadership styles, but they all managed to take their teams to state titles by finding ways to use their own skills to elevate the play of those around them.
6A MVP: Maggie McCord, Bingham
Bingham head coach Charron Mason knew losing in the state championship game last season was a painful experience for her players. But she didn’t realize how much it motivated some of her best players until the Miners were fighting through one of the toughest regions this season.
“I don’t think I even realized how much it impacted (Maggie McCord), until she talked about it throughout the year,” Mason said of this year’s 6A MVP. “She referenced it quite a bit.” But it was the way the senior referenced last year’s disappointment that helped this year’s team find both the emotional and physical will they needed to earn a championship.
“She talked about how we’ve been through trials,” Mason said. “She talked about how we’ve been through adversity. She wanted to learn from that and make the team even better. ... She referenced how she felt after that loss to Fremont, and talked about how we were not going to have any regrets this year. She’d say, ‘We’re not going to feel that way again.’”
McCord was so focused on helping the team in whatever way she could, she rarely even knew about her own personal milestones.
“She never referenced anything individual,” Mason said. “She did everything for the team, with the team, because she loved the team. That’s how she led.”
McCord was often the best player on a talented team, but it was her ability to help elevate the play of those around her that made the difference for the Miners. She found plenty of help in that effort from her other captains — she was the only senior, while the other three were juniors.
McCord led the team with nearly 18 points and eight rebounds per game. She was laser-focused on the court, but a breath of fresh air off the court.
“She’s as goofy as all get-out,” Mason said laughing. “It’s funny how she can be so goofy and so hardworking at the same time. She loves to laugh, loves to talk about Keith Urban, and is just so fun.”
The honor student will play at Dixie State University next year.
5A MVP: Lealani Falatea, East
It is difficult for an underclassman to lead a team, but especially difficult when that team is loaded with talent and experience.
But that’s what Lealani Falatea did this season — and it’s thanks, in part, to her older sister.
“Her best attribute is her maturity,” said East High head coach Olosaa Solovi. “She came in so mature, and just her IQ of the game. I don’t even know how to explain it, and then she’s just super athletic.”
He said watching her come in as a freshman and win the trust of the older players was a credit to her — and the girls with whom she played.
“It was impressive,” he said. “Her leadership was undeniable because of her game, because of how fearless she was.”
Falatea is a fierce competitor, but she wasn’t a loud or disruptive force in the locker room. She let her game do the talking, and she was aided in a number of ways by the support of her older sister, Deserae Falatea.
“Our upperclassmen embraced that she was going to be one of our better players,” Solovi said. “Sometimes that can be disruptive. But her ability to make everybody OK with her on the court really helped the team gel. ... Her sister really helped her because I think they push each other. Their games are different, and they bring different things to the court. They’re extremely competitive with each other, and they expect the best out of each other on the court. But that doesn’t carry into a bad relationship. They don’t want to lose to each other, but they also really respect each other’s games. They cheer for one another. There is no doubt they want to beat each other, but they support each other, and it’s great. It’s what makes both of them great players.”
Deserae provided more vocal leadership, while Lealani proved herself to be an almost unstoppable offensive force.
“Her sister is a big piece of her,” Solovi said. “(Deserae) was her biggest fan but they hold each other accountable. That was something special to watch. You don’t see that every day.”
It’s also rare to see a sophomore who plays with the courage Falatea exhibited.
“She’s just a competitor,” Solovi said. “Her willingness to take the big shot was huge. She was just fearless. ... And off the court, she’s an amazing person. She was just a gift.”
4A MVP: Mayci Torgerson, Cedar
Corry Nielsen spends a lot of time scouting opposing teams and searching for weaknesses his defense can expose.
If he is grateful for one thing this season, it’s that he didn’t have to try to figure out a defensive answer to junior Mayci Torgerson.
“If I was to try and scout her, I don’t know what she cannot do,” Nielsen said. “She’s quick and athletic, can finish at either end, and is just excellent. She can do it all. She does not have a weakness.”
Torgerson moved to Cedar City this season, which is not always an easy adjustment to make. Cedar had a talented team this year, and so Nielsen made it clear she’d be just one of a gifted group.
“She was coming from a school where she averaged 18 points per game,” he said. “I told her, ‘You will not score 18 points a game here.’ We have other players who are very good, and she didn’t care. She said she wanted to be part of the team, and she wanted to win. She came in with the attitude that she didn’t care if she scored two points or 10 points. She just wanted to be part of the team, have a fun time, and she wanted to be successful.” In the end, the 5-foot-8 guard averaged 13 points per game and helped guide Cedar to a 4A title.
“She’s not that vocal,” Nielsen said. “She’s an example. She’s always the first one on the floor, and she stays after practice every day. She won’t go home until she makes X amount of shots.”
Nielsen laughs as he describes how there are times that he sends her home before she’s ready because he wants to leave.
“She’s a perfectionist,” he said. “She is very driven, and she’s very intense on the court. But off the court, she laughs and jokes, and everyone likes her. It’s been a challenge to move here, but she fits in with all the girls.”
Part of that, he believes, is her willingness to play whatever role the team needed.
Her focus and high standards apply to all areas of her life. She maintains a 4.0 GPA, and she’s a varsity volleyball player, as well as one of the best high jumpers and hurdlers in the state.
“She is just a very good athlete,” Nielsen said. “She’s a tough, intense, hard-nosed person.”
3A MVP: Megan Jensen, Emery
Emery coach Lynne Tuttle struggles to find any flaw in how Megan Jensen plays basketball.
“She had no weaknesses,” he said. “She can go left or right to the basket, and that made her very difficult to stop in the post. And over the years, she worked on her outside shot. She had the green light from the 3-point line.” Jensen was part of a sophomore class who have made Emery High a perennial power in their three seasons. The team’s record in those three years is 73-3, capping this season with their second consecutive 3A state championship.
“Where Megan really stood out was, she’s 6-foot-2, 6-foot-3, and her footwork was extraordinary,” Tuttle said.
Jensen averaged 17.4 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game in leading her team to a title.
The high honor roll senior has signed to play basketball for UVU next year. She was a member of the varsity volleyball team and competes in both long and high jumps in track.
Her attitude might be her second-best attribute, after that exceptional footwork.
“In the four years I had her, I really don’t think I saw an ornery bone in her,” Tuttle said. “She was always happy-go-lucky, extremely coachable, and just really fun to be around. She worked really hard, and if I told her to try something, the first thing she did was give it a try.”
Jensen led by example, and the respect her teammates had for her came from her work ethic.
“When she worked on something, she worked hard until she perfected it,” Tuttle said. “The other players saw that and fed off of her. ... If she was struggling, she’d just stay after practice on her own time and work it out.” Jensen’s constant pursuit of excellence helped her succeed on and off the court.
“She’s definitely a great asset to the team,” Tuttle said. “And she will be hugely missed.”
2A MVP, Sydnee Gillins, Beaver
From the time she was small, Sydnee Gillins shined brightest when the situation was bleakest. Whatever the challenge, her goal was to find a way to succeed.
“She’s a winner,” said Beaver head coach Jon Marshall. “I think back to when she was in eighth grade, and she’s always been that type of player that when there is a lot on the line, that’s when she’s at her best.” In fact, it happened during this year’s 2A state championship game.
“We were trailing, and she scored the first 12 points of the fourth quarter for us,” he said. “It was one of those situations where you see a player say, ‘We’re not going to lose this game.’ She finished with 24 points. She’s just one of those players, when there is a lot on the line, she comes to play, she comes to win.”
Gillins led the Beavers with 12.5 points per game, and despite being just 5-foot-6, she can play anywhere on the floor.
“She’s started almost every game of her high school career,” he said, noting she missed a couple of games due to injuries. “She can play any position. She’s a guard, but we also played her quite a bit in the post. Her skill set, she can score inside or outside. Earlier in her high school career, she wasn’t a 3-point shooter. She was more of a slasher, drive to the basket. But now her outside shooting has been tremendous. She put in a lot of time and effort to improve her game, and she’s gotten better at a lot of things.” But her ability to hit outside shots is something Marshall said was key to the team’s success this season.
“This year, the one thing I’ve been very proud of her for ... is she’s really stepped up in being a vocal leader,” Marshall said. “She’s a senior, she’s been there, and she’s earned that respect from her teammates. She actually did a lot of things that impressed me.”
Marshall said the chemistry and leadership of Gillins and the other seniors was the reason Beaver earned a state title.
“When she came into this program, her class, this group of seniors when they were freshmen, we were coming off a really hard season. We’d hit rock bottom in terms of wins/losses, and Sydnee and her classmates helped bring us back.”
1A MVP Brittney Henrie, Panguitch
To the casual fan, Brittney Henrie made her mark on the storied Panguitch basketball program with her reliable 3-point shooting.
But that’s not what her coach will remember when he thinks about her contributions to the team and their back-to-back titles on her watch.
“The well-rounded player is what I see as Brittney’s true strength,” said head coach Curtis Barney. “Most people will say her 3-point shooting when they hear the name Brittney Henrie, but for me, as a coach, it is to watch her do all the little things on the floor. To Brittney, defense was just as important as offense, and her leading the team in assists, steals and rebounds, shows the type of player she was.” The honor student helped guide the Bobcats to a 1A title in her junior season, earning MVP honors for that effort. For some, that would have been enough.
“Brittney could have easily been satisfied, but she was even more hungry this season,” Barney said. “(She) wanted her senior year to be just as special. The team worked very hard to fill in the missing pieces from last year, and Brittney was always willing to help the team in whatever way was needed.”
Because of her success as a junior, Henrie became the focus of opposing defenses every game.
“Brittney faced multiple double-teams and junk defenses to try and limit her offense,” Barney said. ”The thing I loved about Brittney is that she never got frustrated or let her emotions show. She always did the little things on the floor, even if teams were shutting her offense down.”Comment on this story
That included finding teammates to get involved, including Mataya Barney and Kiesa Miller. Her decision to look to her teammates, rather than trying to win games herself, proved to be the difference in winning a second straight title.
“Brittney realized that the team effort was much more important and being unselfish was the way to winning it all this season,” Barney said, noting she averaged 14 points per game while leading the team in nearly every statistical category.
Henrie has signed to play basketball at Western Wyoming Community College next season.