Leadership is a very tenuous and obscure trait.
Sometimes it comes from the actions of a silent but dedicated person. Other times from the mouth of an articulate and charismatic figure. Often it's even hard to put a finger on why some people have the ability to motivate and inspire.
But one thing is certain when it comes to this year's Deseret News Most Valuable Players: Whatever it is that great leaders have — these girls have it.
VANESSA HUTSON, 5A MVP
This sophomore point guard led Brighton on a two-month quest that ended in the school's first girls basketball title. The mission was huge, but to Hutson, always attainable, as the Bengals set out to win a championship for teammate Jara Ludlow, who was killed in a car accident last May.
Their very public journey was chronicled by the entire state, and Hutson took responsibility for making the team's desire a reality. Although there were moments when outsiders doubted whether Brighton could deliver, the 5-3 guard never doubted. She led her team in every way and at times willed them past opponents until they, and Ludlow's parents, held the 5A trophy in their hands.
"I think it made it easier," Vanessa Hutson said of the pressure to win for Jara. "It inspired me and it was a challenge. I knew all the things she would have done, and I took it upon myself to do them."
If playing for her best friend's memory wasn't enough, Hutson was also dealing with tremendous turmoil surrounding the health of her mother. Lisa Hutson said her daughter struggled as the season began without the teammate she'd seen on the court since she was 8 years old.
"In the beginning I think she felt very alone, and she'd never experienced anything like that before," said Lisa Hutson, who suffers from diabetes. "This whole year has been truly amazing. . . . If people knew how much she really had to deal with — there's so much more."
Lisa Hutson is losing her eyesight and has been on dialysis for nine months awaiting a kidney transplant. The fact that Lisa Hutson can barely see her daughter as she plays also motivated Vanessa.
"She's just an incredibly self-disciplined and kind person," her mom said. "She has friends of all kinds and varieties. Everything she does, she puts her whole heart into it — and sometimes too much."
Also a 4.0 student, Vanessa said she hopes to play in college and maybe even the WNBA. She led her team with an average of 18 points and eight assists per game.
HOLLIE HANSEN, 4A MVP
When Hollie Hansen was a freshman, Mountain View lost in the semifinals of the state tournament to Kearns.
Her coach cautioned her and her teammates not to shun the feelings that losing created.
"I told them not to forget what this feels like because you'll never feel it again," said Mountain View coach Dave Houle. And while the Bruins have lost a few games in out-of-state tournaments, for three years they haven't lost to a Utah team. The team's dominance is due in large part to the play of Hollie Hansen and her twin, Heather.
"The biggest advantage Hollie has had is that she had a twin sister," Houle said. "They really know each other so well they can almost anticipate what the other one will do. I've seen them throw a pass that looks like it's gone and the other one will be there to catch it."
Hollie's leadership abilities shone this season when Heather became ill with the flu just as the state tournament started. Heather had led the team all year offensively, but was a big part of its defense, too. The classification's defensive player of the year for the last two seasons, Hollie Hansen took over for her sister on defense so she could conserve her energy, Houle said. And then Hollie stepped it up offensively.
She also hit one of the biggest shots for the Bruins all year when they were battling Orem for the state title. She knocked down a 3-point shot with five minutes to go and the score tied. Her sister and another teammate scored on subsequent possessions, and Orem never recovered.
She and her sister will play for BYU next season in large part so they can stay close to home. Hollie averaged 11.1 points per game and a phenomenal 8.9 steals per game. She also showed commitment to her teammates with 5.6 assists per game.
VEVA WHITEAR, 3A MVP
In a game where size rules, this 5-3 guard was a huge part of Morgan's undefeated season. The point guard adjusted to a new coach and changes in the offense with the same ease she showed as she out-ran opponent after opponent.
"Veva was used to taking on most of our scoring," said coach Kovi Christiansen. "I asked her to be more of an assist player, where she'd have to sacrifice some of her personal stats for the sake of the team. She did it without complaint, and that was probably the key to a lot of our success."
Whitear led not only a quick, transition-oriented offense, she was one of team's better defenders with an average of 4.3 steals and 2.8 deflections per game. She led the team by example as she worked as hard as she could whether it was a practice or a game.
"You can't say enough about her as a player," Christiansen said. "She's gutsy; she hustles, and she's able to get that out of her teammates."
She motivated her team with both words and action.
"How she went is kind of how we went," Christiansen said. "She's what a team leader is all about."
Whitear knows how to win after helping Morgan's volleyball team to a 3A title just three months earlier. She also averaged 7.2 points per game and had 6.4 assists per game.
CHELSEA EYRE, 2A MVP
Whenever Marcia Eyre wonders where her 17-year-old daughter gets all of her energy, she remembers Chelsea's younger years.
"She didn't sleep through the night until she was 4 years old," Marcia said. "And it wasn't that she just woke up a lot, she was awake most of the night. She always had to be doing something."
For the senior, that energy has become a huge asset now that she's playing multiple sports, holding down a part-time job and juggling class officer duties as the sophomore and junior class president. It has also made her a natural leader for one of girls basketball's strongest programs.
"Everything we did was based around her," said Beaver coach Jon Marshall. "Offensively everything went through her, or teams double-teamed her and freed up other players. Defensively, we didn't have to worry about the middle, and it really opened things up for the rest of the players."
The team started out with two losses and then won 16 games in a row to win its third title in a row. Marshall said Eyre's vocal leadership and gregarious personality were key in their success.
"She builds everybody up," Marshall said. "You never like to lose games, but with players like her, and my other seniors, the team didn't panic. They understood that what mattered was how you play at the end."
In addition to her job and basketball, Eyre was Academic All-State with a 3.99 GPA.
"She's had one A-minus," her mom said. "She has a ton of energy; she's always positive. I've very rarely ever seen her down. She just doesn't let things bother her. She has the biggest smile, and people are attracted to her."
JENNA SAWYER, 1A MVP
The Panguitch Bobcats looked more vulnerable this year than they have for many years.
Graduation had robbed them of their normally strong perimeter shooters, but fate left them one of the best post players in the state.
"For us both offensively and defensively she was our stabilizing force," said Panguitch coach Curtis Barney. "Offensively, she demanded so much attention that teams tried to double and triple team her. That left other kids open. Once we could get her the ball, she was almost always able to make her shots, and she got a lot of points off the offensive boards."
He said the team used her as "bait" and Panguitch changed from a team draining 3-point shots to a squad sinking 10-footers.
"So much relied on her," Barney said. "We just stayed real patient, and became a 10 to 12-foot shooting team. Her presence there reaped rewards for other girls."
Sawyer averaged a double-double with 15.5 points and 10 rebounds per game.
Like Eyre, Sawyer's ability to defend in the paint allowed her teammates to take a lot more risks defensively.
"It allowed us to do all kinds of things," Barney said. "We could press or trap because we knew she had the middle taken care of."