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The City Journals

A season for the record books for Copper Hills

Mar 29, 2019 11:10AM ● By Greg James

Breaunna Gillen led the Grizzlies in scoring this season averaging nearly 18 points per game. (photos courtesy of Greg James/City Journals)

By Greg James |  [email protected] 

The final seconds clicked off the clock of the high school girls basketball championship game, and despite Copper Hills finishing on the losing side, they engineered a season better than any other Grizzly team. 

“I have nothing but pride in this group of girls and what they accomplished,” Grizzlies head coach Ben Morley said. “If you measure every team by whether or not they win a state championship, that makes for a lot of unsuccessful, sad teams. The girls wanted to win more than anything, but we as coaches will remind them of what they have accomplished.”

The team achieved a third-straight semifinals visit and its first finals appearance in school history. Its 23-3 overall record tied the 2015–16 team for most wins a season.

Bingham defeated the Grizzlies in the championship game 46-41. Copper Hills trailed from the beginning and remained scoreless until 3:45 remained in the first period. The Grizzlies trailed 11-3 at the end of the first period.

“The beginning of the game and second half made the difference in this game,” Morley said. “We allowed them to start faster than we did. We battled back and were just a couple of shots from taking the lead. They made a run and forced us to play in catch-up mode and scramble. That was the key.”

Copper Hills clawed to within three points with 23 seconds remaining, but the Miners sank game-ending free throws to secure the victory,

“Today our defense was really good, but offensively we never really found our stride,” Morley said.

Junior Elayana Tafisi paced the Grizzlies with 14 points, and senior Breaunna Gillen added 12 in the loss. Scoring was the strength of the team throughout the season. They netted 1,658 points this season to lead the Utah High School Activities Association 6A classification, nearly 300 points more than the second-highest team.

“Throughout the season, it was our scoring that made us who we were,” Morley said. “As the season progressed, we got better and better defensively.” 

Gillen, a Dixie State University signee, averaged 18 points lead the team. Tafisi pitched in 14.8, and Lenisi Fineanganofo scored 10.6 per game.

“We have several girls that will have opportunities to play after high school,” Morley said.

The level of talent is not the only reason Copper Hills players will have opportunities to continue their academic careers. Four Grizzlies were awarded the UHSAA Academic All-State award: Kaiya Barker, Emily Larsen, Joey Lealaitafea and Gillen. The award is given to high school seniors who play significant roles on their team and maintain high academic standards throughout their high school careers.

“I wish people could see beyond the basketball identity of these girls,” Morley said. “Because when you have a chance to be with them and see what amazing young women they are, that is what makes this team special. I have been coaching long enough to know what a great group of players looks like. I most proud of the quality of these girls.” 

This was the Grizzlies’ fourth straight region championship. 

“It is an honor to be around this great group of girls,” Morley said. “I share in their successes, and my heart breaks when we fail. At the end of the day, it is about relationships. As a team, we will not ever be able to play a game together again. The end of the season is sad.”