The cornerstones of the future are being laid for several girls' basketball programs in Utah County. But not only will these girls set the standard for roundball in coming years, many of them are leading their teams already.

Just when you think the high school talent might be dwindling because of such graduations of Sandy Marvin and Lindsey Freeze, a new group of youngsters always comes along to take their places. There are still plenty of juniors and seniors out their leading their teams to victory, but not quite waiting in the wings are the young guns, some of whom have decided the time has come to make their presence widely known.

And this year's crop of underclassmen has some especially impressive resumes and plenty of talent on display on the hardwood. These are definitely players to watch, not just this year, but deep into the future.

Sophomore sensations

Amanda Farish, 5-foot-11 center/forward, Lone Peak: Before the season even started Lone Peak coach Keith Flood was singing Farish's praises saying that the only thing the talented youngster lacked was experience. And now as the year progresses, Farish's seasoning is well underway as she takes over the paint for the already versatile Knights.

"She's an outside shooter who can penetrate. She's incredibly athletic," said Flood in what seems a real understatement.

Farish dropped 20 points on region rival and one of the top teams in the state, Timpanogos, in her first region contest. She has great ball control for a post player and uses her back-to-the-basket abilities and an all-out tenacity to take over underneath. She rebounds, plays defense and averages over nine points per game for a team laden with talent.

Jenna Johnson, 5-foot-7 guard/forward, Spanish Fork: This tough athlete came straight from volleyball to the basketball court and didn't miss a step along the way. As the season has extended, her minutes have increased and she's taken all opportunities to show everyone who's seen her play just what a special player she can be.

"She's a great shooter, who's already playing a lot of minutes for us," said Spanish Fork coach Ryan McGuire. "She's certainly one of the top young kids in Utah County and there are a lot of good ones. She plays well every night, and she's obviously our future."

Johnson has gone from being a solid cog in the Dons' gameplan to the team's leading scorer, averaging nearly 10 points per game. She can handle the ball, stop and shoot, or drive to the hole with plenty of confidence.

Amy Weitzeil, 6-foot-1 forward, Timpanogos: With all the talent surrounding her, most people would think she wouldn't be able to dig up the opportunities to show off her many skills, but Weitzeil finds a way to help her team every game.

In the high-velocity offensive game the Timberwolves put on the court every night, Weitzeil has learned to run the floor, drive to the hole and finish. And she can also pick up the boards and put the ball right back up to the rim. She's no slouch defensively, and she always plays with plenty of grit.

She's averaging nearly nine points per game and her coach Elizabeth Darger never has a negative word.

"She improves every game and always makes the most of her opportunities," the Timpanogos coach said, adding that Weitzeil is not only a key to the future but is making herself more and more irreplaceable in the present.

Alexis Kaufusi, 5-foot-11 forward/center, Timpview: Of all the sensational sophomores showing off their stuff, Kaufusi has the most experience as she proved herself one of the most important components to last year's T-Bird team even as a freshman. Ever since she made her debut with Timpview, she's been targeted as the top player in her class, the one to watch.

It's been tough to see Kaufusi much this season as she injured her foot prior to the first game and missed all of 2005. But she's back and she hasn't lost a step. In her two games she's averaging 12 points and has already shown her innate ability on the boards and in the paint. It takes only a few minutes to see Kaufusi's a special player, her team's leader.

"She's a real athlete. She's looking to go both ways in the post. She can pass the ball well, she's aggressive on the boards, and she can score from inside," said her coach Wendy Anae.

Kaufusi's the type of player that can take over a game in any way a team needs, and the T-Birds are happy to finally have her back.

Gabrielle Pinegar, 5-foot-6 guard, Timpview: The T-Birds are sporting plenty of young talent as guard Gabrielle

Pinegar's shooting ability helps open up the inside for her teammates in the paint to work. Coaches around the valley have been talking about Pinegar's shooting since before fall training camp, and defenses often key on her in three-point land.

"She's a great shooter, and she's got plenty of versatility," said Anae.

Though it is Pinegar's shooting that has tongues wagging, she can also handle the ball and handle playing defense against some of the other tough guards in the valley. Pinegar is an all-around threat with her nearly eight points per game average and her ability to drop the long ball at any time.

Other sophomores to watch: This is by no means a definitive list, though the players listed above are already putting up big numbers both offensively and defensively. There are several other sophomores that haven't had the chance to put up many shots but are showing off their talent through aggressiveness defensively and helping their teammates star. Lehi's Marci Gray, Lone Peak's Shantel Flanary, Orem's Brianne Larsen, and Provo's Vanna Cox are just a few that turn heads when they're on the court with their tenacity and are definite names to keep in mind for the future.

Fabulous freshmen

Haley Holmstead, 5-foot-7 guard/forward, American Fork: This freshman has been on the radar screen in American Fork for years as coach Cory Clayton has waited patiently for her arrival. She's a versatile player that can tackle four positions on the basketball court and Clayton calls her his "most gifted player offensively."

She's averaging over nine points per game and is improving as the year goes on and she gains experience.

"She's so versatile. She can out rebound taller people, she's a quick jumper and she has a nose for the ball," said Clayton, who loves her ability to do almost anything he asks.

Kaycee Mansfield, 5-foot-10 center/forward, American Fork: The Cavemen are led by two talented freshman as Mansfield joins teammate Holmstead on the court. Mansfield is the key component to the American Fork inside game. She shows plenty of toughness and plays with a confidence hard to find in most freshmen.

"She can shoot with either hand," said Clayton of his talented post player. "She can run the floor and she's our best jumper and rebounder. She's just a real athlete."

And she's leading her team in scoring at nearly 11 points per game. The only thing Clayton believes his freshmen are lacking is experience on the court, and he's looking for great things from his team next year.

Brooke Hiatt, 5-foot-9 forward, Payson: This freshman came in with plenty of confidence and athleticism, determined to prove her talents to the Payson community and her father. It's tough to be the coach's daughter, but Hiatt has proved she can handle it and has improved every game this season.

She's the Lions' leading scorer with nearly 10 points per game, and she helps the team all over the court with her intense defense, passing ability and the toughness it takes to take a pounding down low or scramble on the floor for a loose ball.

"She can shoot threes and drive to the basket," said Payson coach Dave Hiatt, who also likes to point out that she's still greatly unproven and very young.


E-mail: jolsen@desnews.com