ST. GEORGE – Providing instant energy is a task junior forward Tom Whitehead became accustomed to doing throughout last season for Dixie State.

During his sophomore season, Whitehead carved out a niche as his team's top player off the bench — averaging 8.3 points and 3.4 rebounds in 26 games.

Since moving into the starting lineup this year, his impact has become even more noticeable. Whitehead has quickly emerged as both the top scorer (16.1 points per game) and leading rebounder (5.4) for the Red Storm.

Dixie State coach Jon Judkins fully anticipated that such an emergence would occur once Whitehead took on a bigger role.

"He should have probably been a starter all year last year, but we just liked him coming off the bench and bringing us that energy," Judkins said. "This year, he's got a different role. He's our leading scorer. We expect him to score. We expect him to shoot shots."

Whitehead's impact can be seen by his performance against BYU-Hawaii in the Red Storm's conference opener. He scored a career-high 24 points and collected eight rebounds.

One thing Whitehead takes pride in is that his efforts on offense and defense go a long way to opening things up for his teammates.

"I'm able to stretch the court and able to help the guys inside," Whitehead said. "A lot of times teams are worried about finding me in transition and then finding me on offense. It opens things up for our big guys inside to make good post moves."

Playing his sport in his hometown is not what Whitehead envisioned at first when he decided to play college ball.

After serving an LDS mission, he spent a year at Yavapai College (Arizona), where he averaged 22 points and 8 rebounds per game for the Roughriders. Whitehead then signed with Creighton. He never played a game for the Bluejays, though, and ultimately chose to transfer to Dixie State before the 2008-09 season.

Leaving Division I basketball behind has turned out in Whitehead's favor, and he is thrilled with how things have played out for him.

"Every kid's dream is to go play Division I basketball," Whitehead said. "That's what I thought I wanted to do. That's what I set out to do. But I wouldn't trade anything to play in front of my family and in front of my friends and everybody that I've grown up with."

FOLLOWING THE LEADER: Salt Lake Community College and American Fork alumna Haley Holmstead is setting the standard for scorers nationally.

In leading No. 2-ranked SLCC (16-1) to 16 consecutive victories, Holmstead has established herself as the top scorer among all NJCAA players with an average of 23.8 points per game.

Holmstead has scored in double figures every game so far this season and has finished as the Bruins' leading scorer in all but one game.

DEFENSIVE MENTALITY: Westminster has embraced the role of preseason title favorite in the Frontier Conference quite well. The No. 12-ranked Griffins ran their winning streak to nine games over the weekend with a 65-48 victory over Montana State–Northern and an 81-54 win over Great Falls.

Defense has served as a primary catalyst for keeping the streak going.

The Griffins (12-4, 2-0) are second in the Frontier Conference in scoring defense, holding opponents to 63.8 points per game. They also rank second in field goal percentage defense and third 3-point field goal defense.

EMAIL: jcoon@desnews.com