Cougars take girls region basketball titleMar 04, 2021 01:17PM ● By Greg James
The Cougars have relied on the outside shooting of junior Tayah Paker. She has made 52 three-pointers in her high school career. (Photo courtesy of Kearns High School.)
By Greg James | [email protected]
Kearns is in a position it has not found itself in very often.
In the past 10 years, the highest the girls basketball team has finished is third in its region (last year). In a strange and often difficult 2020–21 year, the Cougars can call themselves region champions.
The season did not start well. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert suspended all high school extracurricular activities before Thanksgiving. Many school coaches and administrators worried the season might get canceled. But with diligent efforts by the Utah High School Activities Association, the season was just delayed. Kearns opened its season on Dec. 8 against Alta.
In that first game, it trailed by five at halftime. The team could have easily packed it up and tallied another loss just like the last 10 years, but its stifling defense held the Hawks to three points in the third quarter, helping it get back into the game and force overtime. Amaya Afatasi scored 15 points in the 53-50 overtime victory.
In its preseason games, Kearns went 3-7, but it played against some of the best teams in the state: Herriman, Pleasant Grove and Skyview. During that stretch, the Cougars discovered what kind of team they are and where they could improve.
Defensively, they rely on Sophomore Emma Mumford. She is averaging 1.5 blocks per game and is currently ranked seventh in the state in that category. When she leaves the game, the Cougars increase ball pressure to stifle their opponents.
Region 2 has been a close battle this season. Kearns, Hunter, Taylorsville and Cyprus each held the top spot sometime during the season. The Cougars thought they had lost their chance when they lost to Hunter 40-36 on Feb. 9. In the game, they had foul trouble at the end, and the Wolverines sank some critical free throws that resulted in the Cougar loss.
The Cougars still had a chance, and they rebounded to take back the region lead with a 52-49 victory over Cyprus on Feb. 11. Mumford scored 20, including a final-minute tip-in and two critical free throws.
Afatasi, a sophomore, leads the team in scoring knocking down 12.7 points per game. She has also averaged over two steals on defense.
Junior Tayah Parker has hit 32 three-pointers this season. She has 52 in her high school career. Kearns uses the three-point shot as a weapon to open the inside for the taller Mumford. In the first quarter against Cyprus, Kearns hit 25% of its shots behind the arc. This opened the middle for the team to make some driving layups and inside shots.
The UHSAA seeds its teams for the state playoff using the rating performance index. Kearns has been as high as 10th in those ratings.
The girls 6A basketball tournament was scheduled to begin on Feb. 23. The finals will be held on March 6 at Salt Lake Community College.