TAYLORSVILLE — Every time Vanessa Hutson stepped to the foul line, the Brighton High student body chanted M-V-P.
That is until the final few minutes of the 5A championship game against Skyline Saturday night. Then they began to chant the name of another Brighton player — Jara Ludlow.
And while Hutson was clearly the team's most valuable player, Ludlow, who was killed in a car accident last May, was definitely the most inspirational.
"She inspired me in every way possible," Hutson said after the Bengals won their first-ever girls basketball title by defeating Skyline 47-31 at Salt Lake Community College. "She was the best friend, teammate, motivator."
Ludlow might not have been on the court to make key shots, but it was her memory that moved the Brighton team to play like it was on a mission. When asked at what point she knew the team had the title in its grasp, Hutson didn't hesitate.
"We had it in our hearts the entire time," she said. "It was incredible just to hear her name. It was like she was standing right there next to me on the court."
SRC="/img/xclear.gif" WIDTH="1" HEIGHT="1" VSPACE="4"> HREF="http://www.desnews.com/dn/photogallery/1,3210,220000659,00.html">
SRC="/i/gallery_link.gif" WIDTH="116" HEIGHT="43" BORDER="0"
The minute the buzzer sounded ending the game, the Bengal squad fell into each others arms sobbing and speaking her name again. They held arm bands with her number, 20, stitched into them above their heads, and they huddled together and then yelled her name.
For the players, the coaches and the parents of Ludlow, it was a moment that was bittersweet.
"The outpouring of love has just been unbelievable," Kevin Ludlow said as he held the title trophy. "I'm sure she's watching this and loving it. I'm not surprised (at the team's devotion to Jara) because she was so lovable and likable and such a leader on the team. I'm not a bit surprised they dedicated the season to her."
Brighton coach Jim Gresh fought back emotion as he watched his team cut the net and talk about Ludlow.
"I don't know whether I feel better about the journey here or this," he said. "It was very emotional for me (when the crowd chanted her name). It was the hardest thing I've ever gone through as a coach. We thought about her a lot during the season, we mourned her when she died. She meant a lot to all of us."
The Bengals led 25-21 at halftime, and while Skyline coach Deb Bennett felt good about her team's chances, she admitted they were outplayed in the second half. The Bengals played like they had nothing to lose, while the Eagles seemed tentative and tight.
"They played inspired basketball," said Bennett. "Rebounding, we just didn't get it done tonight. We just didn't relax on our shots, and we got a little frustrated. Vanessa is a headache to guard, and our pressure was not as good as it should have been."
One problem was that the team's defensive leader, Lizzie Terry, got into foul trouble with two minutes left in the second quarter and had to leave the game. She played hard in the second half, but the tenacious defense that's made the Eagles so good all season was a bit more porous.
"We rely on Lizzie as the anchor of our defense," Bennett said. "That hurt. I thought we were in great shape, but we came out and just let Hutson kind of have her way."
Hutson said she tried a little harder to score the second half, and it showed as she drove to the basket and either made a layup or got fouled and then hit the free throws. She finished with 16 points and six rebounds. Marissa Vandersteen was again outstanding for the Bengals and earned a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds. Her defense and rebounding helped the Bengals stretch their lead in the third quarter. She also scored the team's first points, and she held Ashley Grimm to just six points.
Amy Young led Skyline offensively with 12 points, while Joh-Teena Filipe added nine points and six rebounds.
MVP: Vanessa Hutson, Brighton, G, 17.2 ppg
Marissa Vandersteen, Brighton, F, 7.5 ppg
Amy Young, Skyline, G, 9 ppg
Ashley Grimm, Skyline, F, 11 ppg
Keli Flinders, Fremont, G, 14.5 ppg
Brooke Nelson, Layton, C, 13.6 ppg