Soaring Eagles return to summit with state championship
Senior Becca Curran passes the ball to Trista Vawdrey in the 3A state championship game against Richfield. Juan Diego prevailed 34-32 to claim its second title in three years. (Juan Diego girls basketball)
Gallery: Soaring Eagles return to summit with state championship [5 Images] Click any image to expand.
With a senior class that saw three head coaches in their four years at Juan Diego, the Soaring Eagles won their second 3A state championship in three years.
Senior Trista Vawdrey scored the game-winning free throws with 2.7 seconds left to defeat Richfield in the championship game.
“During the free throws, Brynn (Drummond) and I were just praying behind the 3-point line just watching … the first one went easy peasy and with that one I knew we were going to win,” said senior Anna Ewoniuk.
While Vawdrey had dreams about being in that moment, she knew state would be theirs since their win over then-ranked No. 1 Morgan in January.
“Once we won that game against Morgan to put us in first place, I just knew we were going to win it all, I just never really told anyone because I didn’t want to jinx us,” said Vawdrey, who transferred in this season from Alta.
That victory on the road against Morgan proved a turning point in a season where the team started out 5-4 before Christmas, which included a four-game losing streak.
“It was this huge thing (beating Morgan) because people were really doubting us throughout the season,” said senior Becca Curran. “So to go to their place and beat them there — they had this huge crowd — that was like ‘wow, we can do this.’”
With Morgan being ranked higher all season, first-year head coach Tim Turpin remembered motivating the team by telling them how tired he was of hearing about how good Morgan was.
“That was a big win for our kids and I think from that point forward they knew we really had something,” Turpin said.
Though the senior-laden team won two years ago, it was living in the shadow of the Mills twins, who were the leading scorers that year. That provided plenty of motivation for the coaches and players to “win one for them.”
“This year we knew we could do it and knew we had to work together and play team basketball instead of just one person trying to do everything,” Ewoniuk said.
The team’s balance made winning the title much sweeter. Curran noted the quarterfinal win against Union in which eight different players scored, with no one reaching double digits.
“A lot more people contributed this year,” said Curran, who was named the Deseret News 3A MVP.
While defense was key holding opponents to under 40 points a game, it helped having a core group who had played together since the beginning of their teenage years.
Curran, Ewoniuk, Drummond and Brie Veltri have been on the same team since seventh grade. It created an understanding on the court that proved vital.
“It’s hard to explain — it’s just kind of that feeling that you know they’re going to be there,” said Veltri, who will play for Elmhurst College (Illinois) next year. She said the additions of Vawdrey and fellow senior Tepora Hanneman also helped round the team.
Ewoniuk and Curran, referred to by Curran’s dad as “pit bulls,” have spent many hours together both on the court and the track and field team. Ewoniuk said winning a state championship with your best friend is a great feeling.
“Just ending it on that high note was just amazing and I will never forget these people that I played with,” Ewoniuk said.
Winning the state championship was made more impressive considering the adversity the team overcame throughout the year as the established team assimilated both Vawdrey and a new coaching staff.
“They were struggling with buying in with what I was trying to do. As a coach you try to stick to what you do and also try to learn about them. It was a hard transition,” Turpin said.
Turpin wasn’t hired until midway through September, less than two months before practice started. He started with two assistant coaches, losing one early on before incorporating three more coaches around Christmas, helping to make practices more efficient. Until that time, Turpin was coaching both varsity and junior varsity games.
“I could see what we had, I could see our talent and I felt like if we could just put this together, they could buy into this and it would be OK,” he said.
And for a team that went 13-1 after the new year, the coaching changes and the team conflicts resolved by the players all seem small in retrospect.
“There were times where it was definitely a struggle, but the payoff in the end is what made it really sweet,” Veltri said.