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High school girls basketball: Morrison leading Alta’s up-tempo basketball show

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SANDY — The Alta Lady Hawks basketball team is at an all-time level of excitement this season. With a loaded roster of talent, the Hawks have the ability to make a deep postseason run and could be considered one of the favorites to flash state championship rings come season end. Thus far, Alta has yet to lose a contest and has outscored its opponents 401-281.

The Hawks play a specific type of basketball that could easily be compared to the Phoenix Suns or New York Knicks. Alta rarely stops to take a breather and the tempo is always cranked to critical — the Hawks win games with a method of organized chaos with a dominating transition game on offense and non-stop extended pressure on defense to fluster opposing ball handlers.

This type of game play and strategy is made possible by a trio of guards in seniors Erin Foster and Hayli Shurtz and junior Makenzi Morrison.

"Me, Hayli and (Makenzi) have been playing together since our freshman year and we just have so much chemistry together," said Foster.

However, the play of the youngest guard throughout her three seasons in the Alta program has began to reverberate throughout the ranks of both the high school and college basketball worlds.

And justifiably so.

When spectators watch Morrison play, they'll see a guard with lightning quick reflexes, an uncanny ability to put the ball on the floor and get to the cup and a jump shot that Maya Moore would be impressed with.

"Probably about 9 or 10 (years old), you could kind of tell that she had a knack for it," said Makenzi's father, Terry Morrison, when asked when he started to notice his daughter's talent on the basketball court. "When it really showed up was her ability to dribble the basketball. None of these other girls could dribble because they're 9 years old but she could, and you're like 'Wow, that's amazing.'"

In her three years at the helm of the Hawks' offense, Morrison has incrementally increased her performances. As a freshman, she averaged nearly 15 points per game. The next year, she boasted a 17.6 point per game average. Now, this year, she's dropping 21.8 points a game.

"She just progressed that fast. Anything I told her to do, she'd work on it," said Alta coach Kristi Jensen. "Once she got in the program and understood what she was supposed to do — she's progressed."

"She's a really hard worker, she does anything you ask — she's pushes herself all the time. She does it in practice, she does it in games, (and) she does it in the offseason. That's just the type of person that she is."

Morrison was thrust into a position that few who play athletics have the opportunity to experience. As a freshman, she was counted on to lead the varsity team both vocally and through her actions.

At first — as expected — the team was hesitant to buy into the voice of a 15-year old freshman. "I think they struggled when she was a freshman but now they know she's one of the best players on the team," said Jensen. "There's no question. I think they very much support the fact that she's the leader of the team and they see why."

"I was probably more quiet because I was the youngest, a freshman on the varsity team – but I've earned my respect. People earn respect, and I worked hard for that," said Makenzi. "I think that's where people are willing to listen to me because they can see that I have a passion (for the game) too and I wasn't a person who was just given something, that I worked hard for everything I did."

The work ethic that she displays on the basketball court to hone her skills has translated into the classroom, as well, where Morrison maintains a 4.0 GPA.

"I think school is more important than the athletics 'cause you can't go far without the schooling," said Makenzi. "Which I think carries over into my athletics 'cause I like to do the same thing and stay focused and work hard."

"If you look at her work ethic it doesn't surprise me that she does as well as she does. She really does put in the time," said Terry. "She does her school work every night, she works on (her homework on) the weekends if she has to, (and) she goes in early to talk to her teachers if she doesn't understand something. When it comes to basketball she puts in the time. She does the shooting, the training, the running, (and) the weight-lifting."

The hard work and dedication is obviously paying off for Morrison. She just recently committed to play at BYU after graduation. She chose the Cougars after being looked at by teams like Arizona State, Gonzaga, San Diego State, Oregon and Boise State.

"I wasn't nervous committing because it was the top of my list. I had narrowed it down to three choices and BYU had always been my top choice," said Makenzi. "They had the athletics, the academics, the coaching staff and the environment fits best for me."

For those wanting to watch Morrison and the Hawks play; Alta takes on Bingham (4-1) tomorrow. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Bingham High School in South Jordan. One suggestion, however — bring your oxygen, for the Hawks truly don't believe in braking.

Email: tphibbs@desnews.com