In each of the past two seasons, the Wasatch Academy Tigers have dreamt of a trip to Richfield, and in each of the past two seasons, those dreams have been brutally shattered.
First by the Enterprise Wolves in 2015 and then again in 2016, at the hands of the San Juan Broncos.
While every loss in the postseason is heartbreaking, the loss to San Juan was particularly devastating.
After all, the Tigers held a two-point advantage in overtime with only five seconds remaining in the game, only to watch as the Broncos Bodel Nielson drained a last-second 3-pointer to win the game.
Needless to say, that game has stuck with the Tigers.
“We have kids that don’t ever want that feeling again,” first-year Wasatch Academy head coach Tony Giannotti said. “They are adamant about not letting (that) happen again. We aren’t overlooking anyone in the state tournament. We’ve seen not to do that over the last two years.”
In truth, it was often other teams that would overlook the Tigers, but they could afford to. Wasatch Academy just wasn’t quite there yet as a program.
That is no longer the case.
This year, Wasatch Academy is the best the 2A classification has to offer and the favorite to bring home the state title.
“I think in our classification Wasatch Academy is the team to beat,” Beaver head coach Jonathan Marshall said. “They’ve got some really good basketball players and had some really impressive wins in the preseason. They are definitely the team to beat.”
Leading the way for the Tigers all season long has been star Emanuely De Oliveira.
“We have the best player in the state on our team in Emanuely,” said Giannotti. “I truly believe that. I would put her up against anyone.”
Oliveira has averaged a team-best 15.8 points per game this season, but she is certainly not alone. The Tigers also boast players like Nataly Dunka (11.1 ppg), Kysha Barbel (8.7 pgg) and Mariana Zanellato (8.5 ppg).
“As a team we are playing really well,” said Giannotti. “We are 21-1. Obviously, we have done really well this season, but things are starting to click even more for us.”
Even with Oliveira and Dunka banged up heading into the postseason, the Tigers are the prohibitive favorites.
And yet, competition awaits, namely the Beaver Beavers.
Marshall’s team has been just as impressive as Wasatch Academy this season, and heads into the postseason undefeated in 2A play.
“We are having a great season so far,” said Marshall. “We won our first region championship since 2013 and we haven’t lost to a 2A team yet this year. It has been a really good and positive year for us so far.”
Depth and experience have been the Beavers weapons of choice this season and will continue to be throughout the postseason.
“Our girls are experienced and coming into the season we felt like we had a team that could be this position,” said Marshall. “We lost two seniors from last year, but we had about seven girls with varsity experience coming back. Several of those girls have started since they were freshmen.”
At the front of the Beavers' lineup are players like Tavy Gale, Sydnee Gillins and Brittlyn Carter, all of whom have postseason experience.
“We are pretty experienced and we’ve shown a lot of maturity this year,” Marshall said. “We have made a jump mentally from where we were last year and that has helped us.”
Aside from the Beavers, the North Summit Braves, Enterprise Wolves and Duchesne Eagles all figure to play a significant role in the proceedings, first at Desert Hills High School this weekend and then in Richfield the following week.
“There are some real quality teams,” said Marshall. “North Summit is a team that could definitely be there. Enterprise is a very good team as well. I think all five teams from our region, Region 18, are capable of winning it (all).”