Through a competitive yet up-and-down regular season, the motto of the Spanish Fork girls basketball team was always “relationships over results.” They believed that if they each maintained their focus on the team and their teammates, results would come.
The motto seemed to have paid off, because when they needed a result the most, the Lady Dons got it done.
By a 61-44 scoreline, 21st-seeded Spanish Fork pulled off an upset over Viewmont in the first round of the 5A tournament Tuesday night in Bountiful, securing its spot in the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2020.
Though early stretches of the game were tough on the Dons, they delivered a complete performance — something that head coach Brynlie Nielsen said the team has struggled with at times.
“The beautiful thing about how the state tournament is laid out is that you can peak at the right time and make a run,” Nielsen said. “We’ve been putting together good first halves, good second halves, but our goal coming into today was to put together a full game, and I think we got that tonight.”
Early on, it didn’t look as though that complete game was going to be delivered, as the Vikings used a 10-0 run to secure a 24-14 lead early in the second quarter. Sparking the scoring run for Viewmont was a full-court press that coerced Spanish Fork into some forced and unforced turnovers.
But as quickly as it fell behind, Spanish Fork responded even quicker, rattling off their own 10-0 run in less than three minutes. The Dons entered the halftime break trailing by one point, but it seemed as though momentum was on their side.
After conceding the early 10-point deficit, Spanish Fork went on to outscore Viewmont 47-20 over the last two and a half quarters of gameplay.
The sudden yet paramount flipping of the script by the Dons was primarily driven by its impressive showing on the defensive end. Spanish Fork held the Vikings to just 30% shooting on the night, forcing them to take over half their shots from behind the 3-point line.
When asked what allowed Spanish Fork to have such success on the defensive side of the court, Nielsen said that her team simply did their job and played their roles.
“Honestly, it all came down to discipline with the fundamentals, which is so crucial in the girls’ game,” Nielsen said. “Closing out the right way, knowing your spots, having your teammate’s back by rotating to helpside — we didn’t do anything fancy, we just played Lady Dons basketball.”
The most impressive defense from Spanish Fork came in the fourth quarter, as the Vikings desperately tried to erase the 14-point deficit they faced heading into the period. The Dons held Viewmont to just five points on 2-for-15 (13%) shooting in the final quarter.
Perhaps the most crucial stat on the night for Spanish Fork was its 42-29 advantage on the glass, as it outrebounded the Vikings on both ends of the floor. Creating second chance points on the offensive end and ending Viewmont’s offensive possessions with rebounds on the defensive end.
Emily Gwilliam, who finished with a game-high 11 rebounds for Spanish Fork, was a big reason for the game’s rebound discrepancy. Gwilliam also finished with a game-high 17 points thanks to some impressive finishes at the rim and strong free-throw shooting (5-for-6 from the line).
Nielsen heaped praises on her starting center after the game.
“Emily was huge, not only in the sense that she’s going to go after boards and she’s going to body you down low, but she’s huge for us as a leader,” Nielsen said. “If you watch, she’s holding her teammates accountable, she’s talking, she’s encouraging … all of the girls stepped up in the way we needed them to step up tonight. Emily knows her role and what we need from her and she’s not afraid to fight for it.”
In addition to playing a rock-solid game in the state tournament, Gwilliam, who took two charges in the game for Spanish Fork, will be rewarded with a milkshake for drawing the offensive fouls — a campaign promoted by Nielsen and her staff.
But Gwilliam wasn’t the only Don with a strong performance, as Libby Shaheen (14 points and six rebounds) and Gracyn Cook (11 points, five rebounds and five assists) each had nights to remember as well.
Though they came in on the road as the lower seed, Nielsen said that every one of her players knew that they had an opportunity to do what they’d been working for all season.
“The girls stepped into the game knowing that they had a chance,” Nielsen said. “It was never going to be us losing because we didn’t fight.”
Perhaps the most telling moment of the game came at the end of the third quarter when Viewmont hit a 3 that cut Spanish Fork’s lead to 11. The shot seemed to give the Vikings the much-needed momentum they were searching for as they headed into the fourth quarter.
But, as they did all game, the Dons responded. On the next possession, with the shot clock off and 12 seconds left in the quarter, it looked like Spanish Fork was just going to hold for the last shot, but Brynn Anderson pulled up from 24 feet and banked in a 3-pointer that seemed to suck the life out of the Vikings and their fans before the fourth quarter had even begun.
Spanish Fork went on to deliver a dominant fourth period, snatching its biggest victory of the past couple years.
The Dons now turn their sights toward another hopeful upset, as they face fifth-seeded Cottonwood Thursday night in the second round.
While she knew her team will be facing a challenge in the next round, Nielsen said she likes what she’s seeing in her team right now.
“We saw a team that played all 32 minutes with the complete effort and confidence that we’ve been looking for all season,” Nielsen said. “We’re peaking at the right time.”