Wayne girls claim first state title in 19 years

They say that defense wins championships, and it was clear from the outset of the Utah High School Activities Association Class 1A girls state championship game that, at least in this case, that sentiment is 100% true. Fortunately, for Wayne High, its defense was just a little better than its opponent from Tabiona as the Badgers grinded out a 29-26 win for their first state title since 2004.

Bothered most of the second half by the Tigers’ full-court pressure, Wayne finally found a little breathing room on the scoreboard late in the final quarter.

Down 18-17 midway through the fourth, Badger senior AnDee VanDyke, the most valuable player in the tournament, buried a three-point shot. Hailey Durfey followed that with a 3-pointer of her own and the Lady Badgers had a 23-20 lead.

After VanDyke cashed in a driving lay-up, Wayne turned defense into offense on back-to-back sequences to build an eight-point margin. Durfey scored on a run-out lay-up after the first defensive stop, and then VanDyke got into the passing lane, leading to a foul at the opposite end. Hadlee Taylor drew the foul and buried the charity tosses to push the score to 29-21 with 59 seconds remaining.

“We had those three-pointers right there in the fourth quarter,” said Wayne head coach Kerry Stevens. “Hailey Durfey hit one and AnDee VanDyke hit one, and that put us up six points. You kind of can breathe again for just a second. Then we came down and turned the ball over like two or three times, just giving them opportunities. That got a little intense.

“When we made that six-point gap, I kind of had a breather like I think we’ve got this, and then we couldn’t quite finish the way I was hoping we could. Then Strebel hit that big three for them at the end and then it got really super intense again and back to the defensive battle part of it.”

In a game like this, that can seem like a 20-point lead, and that almost turned into a problem.

Wayne missed free throws and turned the ball over, allowing Tabiona to score on its end, and when the Tigers’ Milee Strebel buried a trey at the 25-second mark, it was back to a three-point game at 29-26.

Wayne looked to run clock down the stretch, but it didn’t work out quite as well as Stevens hopes.

“When we went up six, I went into the, not really the stall, but the take some time off the clock,” he said. “Then, we would turn it over, so it was kind of counteractive. It really didn’t work for us that good. Then, Strebel hit that three and that gave them the momentum. It got pretty intense there at the end.”

Stevens said he looked over at the Tabiona bench after Strebel’s shot and noticed a glimmer of hope had returned.

“That six-point gap was kind of opened up and then it was here we go again, right back at it,” he said.

That was the end of the scoring, as the Badgers held on for the victory, and the celebration began.

Wayne outscored the Tigers 12-11 in the fourth quarter, and that was a scoring bonanza in this contest.

When Strebel drained a 3-pointer at the end of the opening stanza, it was a 5-2 Tiger lead. Hadlee Taylor scored Wayne’s lone first-quarter bucket. It was the first scoring in the contest, and it came more than five minutes into the game.

Scoring baskets, and dishing out the occasional assist, VanDyke delivered a strong second period, allowing Wayne to build what, in this battle, was a huge advantage — four points — at intermission.

The battle went back-and-forth from there, culminating in the kind of finish you would have expected based on a December game between these two teams. It was in that matchup that Stevens’ team first struggled with the Tabiona press that proved so effective in this game.

We played a game against Tabiona early in the season up in Tabiona and it was a pretty close battle,” Stevens said. “We were going pretty good right out of the gate and then he started pressing us. That caused us a little grief. We started turning the ball over. In my mind, I kind of figured that he was going to turn up the defensive intensity for that championship game because of that previous matchup. I was expecting his defensive intensity from the get-go.”

The good news for Wayne is that it could match that kind of play.

“I knew our defensive intensity was going to be good,” Stevens said. “We’ve been super focused on the defensive pressure since before the region tournament — rotations and movement and communication — so I knew our defensive side was going to be really heightened, and I just expected his. I didn’t expect it like that. We both struggled because we were all out of sync.”

With points at a premium, rebounding was a key to the game and while Tabiona won the overall battle of the boards, the Badgers limited the Tigers to just four offensive rebounds.

“We were really focusing, and every time I had an opportunity to talk about it, we were focusing on rebounding, giving them one opportunity and one opportunity only,” Stevens said. “That was a big emphasis on our part.”

After some defensive struggles early in the season, the framework for Saturday’s success was built during the battles in the middle of the campaign. It came as his team learned to trust each other on the defensive end of the floor.

“Some of the girls mentioned that the trust in the help had finally come around,” Stevens said. It started happening the region tournament to where they knew that if we were switching screens, I knew you were going to get my girl and I was going to get yours. So, I think that communication finally snapped and that trust finally happened, and that’s when we started really playing good defense the last part of the season. They finally got to where they were trusting each other. We focused a lot on the communication aspect of defense.”

When championship games get tight, it always helps to lean on experience, and Wayne has plenty of that.

“Having six seniors is really a good thing,” Stevens said. “It takes a lot of stress off of you as a coach. They’re all experienced, they’re all friends, they all work together and they do a lot of things together as friends outside of basketball. Having those six in there watching out for each other was a good thing.”

Van Dyke led the Badgers with 12 points in the championship contest. Taylor scored six points and Durfey added five, while leading the team with seven rebounds. Seniors Aspen New, Emma Hallows, and Kate Torgerson played key roles as they have done all year long.

The decision to lean on that senior leadership took Stevens a few games.

“I kind of worried about it the first part of the season, because I worried about how that transponds into the next season,” Stevens said. “I can’t remember who I was talking to, but I talked to some old-time basketball person, and they said, ‘Worry about next season next season. Roll with what you have this season.’ We put a lot of weight and a lot of trust on those six seniors and just went with that, trying to get some of those other girls in as well to get them a little bit of experience, but for the most part, we put the season on those seniors’ backs.”

Another key to the title game win came the night before when Wayne knocked off the tournament’s top seed, Rich.

“I think that game against Rich was probably the best game I’ve watched the Wayne girls play, offensively and defensively,” Stevens said. “I think once we won that game, I think the confidence on Saturday, there was no question they wanted to win.”

And for the first time in 19 years, the trophy is back in Wayne County.



Wayne’s AnDee VanDyke was the MVP of the 1A state tournament. Photo by Mandy Morrill
Hadlee Taylor delivered key baskets for Wayne throughout the state tournament. Photo by Mandy Morrill
Hailey Durfey was the leading rebounder in the state title game. Photo by Mandy Morrill