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High school girls basketball: MVPs knew how to lead, inspire their teammates

SALT LAKE CITY — Not every talented high school basketball player will earn a state championship trophy.

The best players, however, not only find a way to reach their own potential but also help those around them develop their own skills and talents.

This year's Deseret News most valuable players are a diverse group of young women. And while they share a talent and love for basketball, they also share the ability to lead and inspire their teammates.

5A MVP: Brittney Martin, Syracuse

Pressure may be a heavy burden for some, but for Brittney Martin it is fuel.

"She kind of thrives on it," said Syracuse coach Rob Reisbeck. "She likes that pressure. To her, that's why she plays. She wants to prove she's as good as advertised."

Instead of wilting under the scrutiny, Martin flourished. The two-sport athlete helped the Titans to a perfect season and a 5A state title by averaging 18.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, five steals, three assists and two blocked shots per game.

"She takes things as they come and she just steps up to the (challenge)," said Reisbeck. "She hasn't backed down."

That confidence is something coaches can't teach. But they can harness it. Reisbeck asked the young player to "step into a leadership role along with Jen (Hazlett) and Megan (Butler)."

"I thought she did an excellent job," said Reisbeck. "She was a little more vocal this year when it came to certain things, but she's more of a lead-by-example (player)."

Martin, who also plays volleyball, is agile and much quicker than she might look.

"Offensively, she can create her own shot," said Reisbeck of the two-year starter. "She's pretty well-rounded defensively. She covers so much ground on the floor. You look at her and you wouldn't necessarily think she's quick. But she's very deceptive. She gets more deflections and steals than you'd imagine."

The most exciting aspect of Martin's game is knowing she has two more years of high school to develop.

"For as young as she is, her growth over the last two years has been amazing," said Reisbeck. "We're so excited to see what's next. There is room to get better and she wants to get better and better."

4A MVP: Ashley Kuchar, Provo

In often dimly lit, out-of-the-way gymnasiums, sophomore girls play their basketball games. Because the girls play at the same time as the varsity boys, it is mostly parents who populate the stands.

And while most seniors would opt to head over to the boys varsity basketball games on Friday nights — especially at Provo High — Ashley Kuchar made her way to every one of those sophomore girls games.

"As a senior, this is a time in your life you want to be social," said Provo coach Lance Moore. "Instead of watching the boys games, she stayed at the sophomore games and talked to them, gave them pointers, supported them. It's a microcosm of what she is. She made everyone on our team better."

Kuchar is one of the state's best offensive players, averaging 21 points per game. But it was how she involved her teammates, as well as helped develop the program's younger players, that earned her MVP honors. Her efforts helped the Bulldogs earn third-place in region play.

"Without her, we wouldn't have even made the tournament," said Moore.

Without an experienced supporting cast, Kuchar went to work building a program that will be competitive for years to come.

"The thing about Ashley, if you look at her stats, any coach would want to have her on the team from stats alone," said Moore. "What you don't realize is just how unselfish she is. The intangible difference between her and a lot of other players is just how good she makes the other players. She wants the entire basketball program at Provo High to be better."

Kuchar is also a 4.0 student who signed with Fort Lewis College in Colorado, a Division II school.

"She carried the brunt of our offensive load, and she also had to play defense against some of the state's toughest players," said Moore. "She took care of the ball, and she distributed it well. A lot of teams would try to box-and-one (defend) her and everyone else would get lay-ups because she passes to them."

Kuchar even coached Provo's freshman team during the Christmas break.

"That's invaluable, an example like that on your team," said Moore.

3A MVP: Brooke Bliss, Richfield

Brooke Bliss loves to compete.

In fact, the junior loves it so much, it might be even more valuable to her teammates than her phenomenal natural athletic ability.

"Her biggest strength is just her competitiveness," said Richfield coach Marc Peterson. "And just her desire to get better and better. Practice ends and everybody goes home. Brooke goes out and gets a drink and comes back in and stays for a half hour or 45 more minutes."

That work ethic helped Brooke contribute to the Wildcats even when she was a freshman. As a sophomore, she helped the Wildcats to a near perfect volleyball season and subsequent 2A state title and then a perfect basketball season and a 2A state title. This year she helped the Wildcats to a 3A basketball title with her leadership, talent and hard work. She was the team's leading scorer, averaging 14 points per game. She also drew the toughest defensive assignments. She averaged five rebounds, two assists and two steals as a guard for the squad.

"In the last two years, she's been key to a team that's gone 41-3," said Peterson. "She's probably one of the top athletes to ever play at Richfield High."

Bliss is laid back and easy-going in the hallways or the locker room, but on the court, she's all business.

"She's a no-nonsense type of girl in practice," said Peterson. "She is all about working hard. ... What happens to a team when you have a leader that is just working her butt off, is that it can't help but bleed into how they play. She sets the tone for practice."

2A MVP: Brittany Griffiths, Beaver

Brittany Griffiths isn't one to talk a lot about what she's going to do on the court. Instead, she'll just go out and do it.

"She's a very hard worker," said Beaver coach Jonathan Marshall. "She's a very blue-collar player. She played a physical brand of basketball. She's not real tall, but she's pretty strong for her size."

That strength — and grit — paid off as she drove the lane no matter who was defending it.

"Her dribble penetration to the basket was one of her strengths," said Marshall. "She's also a good outside shooter and a great defender. She's very aggressive and quick."

But her real talent is in making her teammates look good, too.

"She just makes her teammates better," he said. "Running the point, she did a great job running the team and setting everybody else up as well."

Griffiths tends to lead more by example.

"She's not real vocal," said Marshall. "She's just kind of a quiet leader. She's real easy to coach, work with and play with. She just stepped up and did her job."

Griffiths was also extremely strong, which helped her get to the hoop, despite her height disadvantage. She works just as hard off the court maintaining a 4.0 GPA and she was an Academic All-State winner.

"She's an intelligent girl, a really, really smart player," he said. "You can't win state without a good point guard. ... She was the one who held us all together and made us go."

1A MVP: Kandice Gleave, Piute

From the moment Kandice Gleave stepped on to the basketball court, expectations have been high for her. Her older sister was talented, and the junior has been starting since she was a freshman for the T-birds.

"She handles pressure really good," said Piute head coach Wade Westwood. "She doesn't get frazzled — ever."

Of course, the T-birds really didn't put themselves in many difficult spots this season. They capped a perfect 24-0 season with a 68-34 victory over Duchesne in the 1A championship game.

"They were just a good bunch of girls who were ready to go out and get it," he said.

The three-sport athlete plays with the confidence of a much older player, and her maturity and court-sense showed in the T-birds' unbeaten season.

This year, she averaged 17.88 points per game and scored a game-high 25 points in the championship win. She was also a top rebounder and defender, and there wasn't really an aspect of the game where she didn't contribute significantly. She is also an All-State volleyball player, talented track athlete and honor student.

"I'd say her strength is she's mentally and physically tough," said Westwood. "And she's a hustler."

As rough and tough as Gleave is on the court, she is nothing but nice off the court.

"She's a really nice girl off the court, friendly to everyone," he said. "She also helped me with the younger girls. She helped me teach them."

Gleave is a leader without being overbearing.

"She fires them up without doing a whole lot of screaming," he said. "She just always showed up mentally. You could always count on her. Some girls get that deer-in-the-headlights look and you're going, 'Where are you tonight?' But she always showed up."Her teammates look to her for leadership and they admire both her skill and determination.

"Oh my gosh, I love that girl," said teammate Amanda Bagley after Gleave led the team to a 1A title in Richfield last month. "I don't know what we'd do without her. There wasn't one defender on the court that could've stopped her tonight. She definitely had one of the best games of her life."

e-mail: adonaldson@desnews.com