Young and relatively inexperienced, the Lone Peak Knights bowed out of last year’s 6A state tournament one round short of reaching the championship game.
Now, with the majority of their key contributors back for another year, the Knights look like they have the tools to make another run for the money this season.
The winner of its first three games this season, Lone Peak went on the road to face an East team that is very similar to itself — young last season but look ready to make more noise this year.
By a final score of 64-53, the Knights defeated the Leopards Tuesday night to improve to 4-0 on the season. Lone Peak’s Kailey Woolston — who averaged nearly 19 points a game last season as a sophomore — led the way, finishing with a game and season high of 29 points.
The Knights wasted little time asserting themselves in the game as they jumped out to an early 24-7 lead, thanks in large part to their full-court pressure that forced East into four turnovers in the game’s first three minutes.
“I think we started off really strong,” Lone Peak head coach Nancy Warner said. “Our effort got us going and got our offense rolling. Our defense really fueled our offense.”
Offensively, Lone Peak nailed five 3-pointers in the opening period, punishing an East 2-3 zone that took a while to find its footing. Woolston notched three of the five field goals from beyond the arc herself in what ended up being a 13-point quarter for the junior.
The Knights ended up having four separate players hit a 3-point shot in the game, showing that it isn’t just Woolston who has the touch from the outside.
“Everyone can score and everyone can contribute on this team and it makes us much more versatile than we were last year,” Woolston said.
When it looked like the Knights were ready to run away with the game, East slowly upped the ante as the game drew on, especially on the defensive side of the ball. The Leopards began to close out more aggressively on Lone Peak’s shooters, forcing them to generate looks from the inside, which ended up being struggle for Warner’s squad.
“We weren’t finding the holes in the defense,” Warner said. “Whether it was dribble penetration or working inside-out, we needed to do a better job and that was our focus at halftime.”
After allowing 24 first quarter points to the Knights, East allowed just 22 combined points over the next two quarters of the game, including just nine points in the third. Now, despite trailing by as much as 19 points, the Leopards found themselves in contention once again.
Turnovers — which were an issue for both teams at times — played the biggest role in East’s resurgence, according to Warner.
Also helping East’s defensive cause was the fact that Woolston found herself in foul trouble, which forced her to sit out the majority of what was an offensively stagnant third quarter for the Knights.
On the offensive side of the ball, seniors Mia Tarver and Taina Lee began picking up the pace for the Leopards, as each finished with 17 points.
Trailing by 10 heading into the fourth quarter, East was able to cut Lone Peak’s lead to as much as six with 1:52 remaining in the game.
But on Lone Peak’s next offensive possession, after working the clock for a whole 42 seconds, junior Makeili Ika delivered bullet pass to Woolston, who finished a layup with a foul, giving her a 3-point opportunity (which she converted). The play extended the Knights’ lead to 9 with just over a minute to play and effectively put the game away.
Despite letting East back into the game, Lone Peak’s ability to close the game out in the final minutes was impressive.
“I think our leadership stepped up,” Warner said. “At that point in time they realized that they had to step up in order to walk out of here with a win. They all stepped up and became available for each other, made their free throws and finally took care of the ball.”
Woolston, who went 6-for-7 from the line over the final minutes of the game, was certainly one of the many players who delivered in the clutch for the Knights. The junior said after the game that she and her teammates didn’t care how ugly it was in the end, they just wanted to get the win.
“She’s a great player,” Warner said of Woolston. “She fuels our offense, is a great leader for us — if you tell that kid to do anything, she’ll do it. She does whatever it takes to get her team a win.”
Warner added that she’s excited to see what her team — that was once young and inexperienced — can do throughout the rest of the season.