State championship party in Wayne County
For the first time since 2004, and just the third time ever, Wayne County celebrated a girls Class 1A state basketball championship last weekend. It seemed the entire county wanted to be part of the party.
“I think the whole community was out here Saturday night,” said head coach Kerry Stevens. “Every fire truck in the county was here, all the cops were out. We had a line of cars behind the bus from Richfield. There were probably eight or 10 cars that followed the bus all the way home.
“Before we got into Loa, we ran into the posse, and there were cars and fire trucks. It was like the Wayne County Fair, down the sides of the street in Loa. We pulled in here at like 10 o’clock. There were so many people out honking, waving, shooting video, taking videos, screaming. It was pretty loud inside that bus. It’s been great for the community. It’s bringing the community together.”
A community coming together makes it a lot like the team it was celebrating, which thrived on its family atmosphere.
“I felt like we really peaked at the end of the season, winning region and going into state,” said senior Kate Torgerson. “One thing about this team that’s been different is that we’re all just so close and real good friends. We’re all just a real big family. I think that just helped us that much more to be able to achieve and win the state championship.”
The core of the squad was its six seniors, a group that bonded over the years into a title team.
“There are six seniors, and we’ve always been super close. We’ve always played with each other,” said Emma Hallows. “We won our sophomore tournament and when you win your sophomore tournament, you’re thinking that we’ll be playing these girls as seniors.”
Hallows said there was a feeling, building for a couple of years that this day was possible.
“I remember thinking, as a sophomore, that we could win state as a senior,” she said. “That’s always been a goal. This year, when we went into region, we had lost to Valley twice and they were the first game we played. We weren’t losing to them. It wasn’t a cocky thing; it was just a feeling that we should beat them. We’ve worked hard in practice and it’s our turn to beat them.”
Those in the community could see what Hallows and her teammates were feeling, and what they were creating together.
“This team of girls have been playing together for a lot of years and have built a good chemistry and really seemed to figure out the teamwork aspect of the game as the season progressed,” said Wayne High principal David Chappell. “We were playing our best ball at the region and state tournaments. They bought in to the concept of team and not individual ball and it really showed in both a tough defense, which I think was the key to the wins against both Rich and Tabiona, and a balanced offense.”
This team was seasoned through tough contests, and that preparing delivered down the stretch.
“Most of our games throughout the season were tough games,” Torgerson said. “We really like to give everyone some stress and get down a little bit in the first half, and then make a comeback the second half. We’re used to having to fight our way to win. We had a tough season, and we knew how to handle it mentally and physically.”
That toughness comes from a competitive nature that permeates the roster.
“We are all definitely competitive,” Hallows said. “Even when we scrimmage in practice, we almost couldn’t do it because we couldn’t have a losing side. We were a defensive team. Offense will come, but you need to have good defense. I think that’s what we managed to do.”
There are few things that bring out the community in all of us the way small-town championship teams can, and Wayne County certainly typifies that.
“This is only the second time in school history that we have won a basketball state championship, so it’s a pretty big deal to our community,” Chappell said. “There was a large crowd from Wayne County at the championship game and it was great to see people come out and support these girls. The welcome into the county was pretty special also. Fire engines and police officers met them before they got into Loa and there was about a two-mile procession of blaring sirens and honking horns following them to the high school.
“When they rounded the corner coming into Bicknell somebody (I’m not sure who) started letting off fireworks and it was quite the show. Parents and fans then piled into the gym to congratulate the girls and their coaches and hung out there for 45 minutes. It was fun to see the whole community celebrate these girls’ hard work and success.”
It will be a memory these young women will cherish for a while.
“It was pretty amazing coming into Wayne County,” Hallows said. “We were welcomed by all kinds of fire engines. I heard someone say there were like 20 of them from all over Wayne County. The welcomed us in, and then we had people lined up all through Loa on Main Street. There were some in Lyman and then as we got into Bicknell, Harward Blackburn had fireworks going off for us at the high school.
“The whole community has showed so much support. There were so many people at the game that I haven’t seen outside Wayne County in I don’t know how long. That was really amazing to see how much love and support we had from people.”
Torgerson said that it felt like they were playing for a team larger than just the girls in the locker room. This was, in fact, a community win.
“It was really good to bring home a state championship, for the county,” she said. “I felt like we were playing for Wayne County and not just the team. We always know we’re representing the community. I’ve always thought I’m playing for Wayne County and the people of the county.”