With high hopes and high confidence, the Morgan High School girls basketball team made the coveted trip to Cedar City on Feb. 27 to continue their quest for a state title.
All season long the Lady Trojans embodied complete dominance in basketball—overpowering team after team and riding a 13-game winning streak into the tournament. For the season, Morgan was averaging nearly 72 points per game, whereas their opponents averaged only 42. The Trojans had good reason to be confident.
Before Morgan could get to the title game, the Trojans had to go through Richfield (6-15) in the first round, Stansbury (15-8) in the quarterfinals, and North Sanpete (19-4) in the semifinals. Richfield and Stansbury posed minimal challenges for Morgan and the games played out much like the rest of the season. Morgan easily moved on to the semifinals with scores of 77-30 over Richfield and 61-24 over Stansbury.
North Sanpete, on the other hand, was not to be dispatched as easily. Although winning the opening tip, Morgan turned the ball over the first two times down the court for a sluggish start. With a solid defensive effort, including full-court pressure and some early blocked shots, Morgan started to settle down and play their game. Even still, Morgan found themselves in the unusual position of trailing by two points at the end of the first quarter.
Morgan clearly faced a team with better ball handling skills than their typical opponent. Perhaps it was due to limited exposure throughout the season to highly talented dribblers, but Morgan kept getting beat on dribble penetration—seemingly just a half step behind on a number of defensive series.
Although Morgan rallied ahead with a small surge at the end of the second quarter, it wasn’t without some difficulty. Morgan ended the half up by only four points. However, the Trojans began the second half with a strong 6-0 run, and started separating themselves from North Sanpete for good. The third quarter ended with a 47-34 lead over the North Sanpete Hawks.
Jessica Carter opened the fourth quarter with one of her four three-pointers of the game. Morgan would not relinquish the lead, and proceeded to another triumph with a 58-48 final score.
Although most people probably expected a Morgan win in this game, very few would have predicted such a narrow margin of victory. Either way, the stage was now set, and Morgan had earned the right to play for the 3A state championships against the Thunder of Desert Hills.
No other match-up in the final game would have made sense. Just as Morgan had dominated the north with eye-popping victories all season, Desert Hills had been doing the same in the south. Each team entered the final game with only one loss over the course of the season. Ironically, this loss was to the same team, Timpview, a 4A powerhouse. These two teams were meant to face each other in the finals.
The task would not be easy. Desert Hills boasts a roster brimming with talent. Most notably are Blair Bliss, a prolific scorer and aggressive defender, as well as Haley Bodnar. Bodnar is a high-scoring, college-bound, 6’4” senior who recently signed to play basketball for Purdue University, a respected Division I school.
Notwithstanding, Morgan looked well-positioned to win their first state championship since 2004. Morgan’s top scorers, Rashel Blazzard and Breanna Hurlbut, combined for 31 points per game. Desert Hills’ top scorers, Haley Bodnar and Blair Bliss, combined for 27 points per game.
As a team Morgan scores nearly 72 points per game with a 30 point margin of victory. Desert Hills scores 65 points per game with a 29 point margin of victory. In their only losses against their common opponent Timpview, Morgan lost by three points whereas Desert Hills lost by 10.
Morgan’s Lisa VanCampen out-rebounds Desert Hills’ big threat, Bodnar, with a 7.2 vs. 4.8 per game average even with a much smaller height and frame. For that matter, both Breanna Hurlbut and Jessica Carter out-rebound Bodnar, averaging 5.8 and 5.1 rebounds per game respectively.
As a play maker, Rashel Blazzard leads all of 3A averaging 5.3 assists and 4.1 steals per game vs. Blair Bliss with 4.7 assists and 3.2 steals per game. Morgan is a record setting three-point shooting team both in terms of number and percentage.
Both teams run excellent programs and felt the championship was theirs for the taking. (Player stats were taken in part from the Deseret News prep sports website.)
As the game tipped off, Bodnar controlled the opening possession for the Thunder. Two missed three-pointers by the Trojans on their first two possessions seemed to set the pace for an unusually low shooting percentage all evening long. During the first few minutes Morgan appeared to be hesitant with Bodnar as the Trojans attempted to penetrate inside the paint. She received 2 fouls in the opening quarter along with Breanna Hurlbut from Morgan. Morgan ended the first quarter with a 15-10 deficit.
Morgan did not let up on their aggressive play in the second quarter but did continue to struggle with shooting—missing many of their customary shots even without Bodnar in the game. Desert Hills’ intense defensive pressure forced many turnovers Morgan normally would not commit, and steals they usually would not allow.
Bliss from Desert Hills drilled three three-pointers during the half to begin distancing themselves from Morgan. Bodnar did not seem to unduly influence the game after the initial intimidation factor passed. VanCampen and team did an excellent job defending her, getting in position against her, shooting over her, and rebounding around her. Throughout the quarter, Desert Hills methodically capitalized on Trojan turnovers and missed shots. Morgan ended the half down 29-18.
Although the third quarter started with a Morgan turnover, this team does not give up the fight easily. On two occasions Morgan fought back within five points. This gutsy effort seemed to take all the fuel Morgan had left and the Trojans quickly fell back again after another spate of turnovers. Morgan began to show a little despair on their faces as the quarter ended with a 49-37 deficit.
Great teams force their opponents to play out of their element. A flustered Morgan never could get into rhythm against Desert Hills. Morgan kept missing the high junction shots that were automatic all season. Perhaps it was a sense of urgency, but the Trojans would pass up open set shots, dribble a step or two closer to the basket, and end up shooting under pressure.
Morgan scored only six points in this final quarter of play—one of their lowest offensive outputs of the entire season—and this didn’t come until the final two minutes of the game. Morgan’s decision-making had been disrupted. Many times down the floor Morgan would dribble directly toward their target prior to passing instead of quickly swinging the ball around the perimeter the way they usually do, which led to less open looks at the basket.
With just a couple minutes left in the game, and the outcome certain, VanCampen picked up her fifth foul. As she stood near the sideline waiting for the referee to signal the new player in, the combined emotion of every Morgan fan in the 5,300 seat Centrum Arena seemed to bear down on her. The realization of falling short of your dreams was starting to sink in. In a poignant display of tender feelings, she ran into Coach Brad Matthews’ open arms to cry on his shoulder while the rest of the fans vicariously felt the same therapeutic benefit.
Shortly thereafter, the buzzer sounded for the final time this season. Morgan had been defeated 57-43. The second place trophy could not console a heartbroken Trojan team. In the loss, Morgan shot a dismal 17 of 57 from the field, or 29 percent compared to a 44 percent shooting average on the year. Morgan ended the season with a 23-2 record. Desert Hills ended with a 25-1 record.
For most of the season Morgan found themselves outpacing their competition in extraordinarily lopsided victories. The lack of parity among teams in girls basketball created few opportunities for Morgan to test themselves against more rigorous foes. Fortunately, Morgan retains a lot of talent on this team for future runs at the title.
The Deseret News 3A All-Tournament Team included Blair Bliss. Bliss is an incredible ball handler, is extraordinarily quick, plays formidable defense, remains calm under pressure and is sure-handed on offense. Her athleticism may well be the best Morgan faced all season. She earned MVP honors for her performance throughout the state tournament. Bliss ended with 17 points including five steals. Haley Bodnar ended with 12 points and five blocked shots, also receiving all-tournament honors alongside teammates Bliss and Kenzie Done. From Morgan, Rashel Blazzard and Lisa VanCampen were selected for the all-tournament team.
Congratulations to the team on their exciting season. Thanks for a great year!