by Tom HARALDSEN
TAYLORSVILLE—If it hadn’t been for the last-second shots at the end of the second and third quarters, Woods Cross’ battle with Highland in the quarterfinals of the 5A state playoffs might have come out differently. Unfortunately, both those shots went in for three-pointers, and the Rams emerged with a 51-41 victory.
The culprit for Highland was Taryn Johnson, who nailed a trey at the buzzer to cut the Woods Cross lead to 20-19 at halftime, then hit another one as the third quarter ended to give Highland a 38-25 lead. Though the Wildcats tightened things up a bit in the final period, the third quarter was their demise. Woods Cross scored only five points on a three-pointer from Sara Noel, and single free throws from Noel and Paige McKenna. It was a bittersweet ending for a team that finished 15-8 and had some great moments.
“We played a tough and peaking team in Highland in the quarterfinals and they really try to make you play their game, which was difficult for us at times,” coach Dave Simon said. “Again we didn’t shoot the ball real well and they definitely capitalized on a few of our breakdowns. Those were some things that were just to difficult for us to come back from.”
The Wildcats fell behind 12-6, but had a strong second quarter and outscored Highland 14-7. Trailing 13-9, Sara Noel drove the lane for two, and McKenna followed with a three-pointer to give Woods Cross its first lead at 14-13. Following a Highland free throw, Olivia Barton drove the lane for a basket, then hit another with 40 seconds left, and Allee McKenna sank a pair of three throws to make it 20-16 with less than 12 seconds in the half. Johnson’s trey cut the lead to one at the break.
Sara Noel hit a trey a minute into the third quarter following a Highland score, giving Woods Cross a 23-21 lead. But then the ‘Cats went cold. Woods Cross only managed five more field goal attempts in the quarter, missing all of them. Highland turned to center Svetelana Olevao, who tallied seven of her game-high 19 points in the next six minutes. The Rams also got points from Johnson, Kaija Glasker and Olivia Beckstead, hitting 8 of 15 shots in the period, including two treys. After Beckstead’s free throw to start the fourth quarter, the lead stretched to 39-25, and the issue was decided. Woods Cross got no closer than 10 points, the final margin of victory for Highland.
“It was so great to get to the state tournament this year,” Simon said. “It is the first time that we have gone since I have taken over the program. The girls have worked hard over the past three years and it paid off for us with this year’s players. It was especially great to get a win at the tournament against a very good Wasatch team that were region champs and ended up the 2- seed due to a coin flip. We didn’t shoot the ball real well, but we defended really well and I think that is what helped us get the win in the first round.”
Barton led Woods Cross with 17 points and Sara Noel added 11. Allee McKenna had 10 rebounds, and the trio of Barton, Paige McKenna and Sara Noel each had four steals.
“As for the season, I couldn’t be more proud of a group of girls,” the coach added. “We had to overcome some injuries that hurt us in terms of depth and allowing to play a few more girls in those varsity games. I was proud of the way some of the girls stepped up to help the team, whether that meant playing every minute of every game or coming off bench or even the younger girls playing hard during practices to help us prepare for the next game. I felt like we had a great group and a true team that worked together and liked being together. It was definitely tough watching these seniors play their last game but it was maybe the most fun I have ever had coaching a group of girls and watching them compete and play their hardest and do their very best every time we stepped on the court. I am definitely excited for this program and where we are headed and I am thankful for what these seniors, and girls before them, have done to make it a success. We couldn’t have done it without their hard work.”
Simon was also grateful to Barton and the Noel sisters for playing basketball this season. Barton is signed to play soccer at Weber State and the Noels are soccer signees at Utah State.