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5A girls basketball championship: Highland takes first title in 36 years with a 46-34 win over Springville

Tournament MVP Kaija Glasker led the way for for the Rams during Saturday’s championship win, much like she has all season

Highland’s Kaija Glasker hold the championship trophy as the Rams celebrate their win over Springville in the 5A State Basketball Championship in the Huntsman Center at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020. Highland won 46-34.
Highland’s Kaija Glasker holds the championship trophy as the Rams celebrate their win over Springville in the 5A state basketball championship in the Huntsman Center at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020. Highland won 46-34.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Highland decided on Saturday that 36 years had been long enough since last securing a girls state basketball championship.

Not since 1984 have the Rams taken the enviable position as last team standing — hoisting the state championship trophy high while celebrating every precious moment with students and family. The scene came as a result of Highland toughing out a 46-34 win over Springville at the Huntsman Center in what proved an extremely well-earned win.

“It feels amazing. It’s an indescribable feeling,” said Highland forward Kaija Glasker. “We fought so hard to get here. We finally did it.”

Glasker led the Rams on Saturday, much like she did the entire year in helping settle down an otherwise very young team while taking the lead in scoring points and grabbing rebounds, along with just about everything else. The senior finished with a game-high 14 points and pulled down 10 rebounds in a performance that worked as a microcosm for what she’s done for the entire year.

Highland coach Kurt Schneider described an offseason in which Glasker really took charge leading up to a season which ultimately bore a championship.

“Somewhere over the summer and into the fall, Kaija just became a huge leader in every way,” Schneider said. “She didn’t have to be the center of things, but just worked so hard getting everyone involved, and just believing in and encouraging all of our younger players with everything. When I started to see that, that’s when I believe that, yeah, this team could be pretty good.”

Glasker’s teammates saw the same, and benefitted big from it.

“She’s just showed us how to push through whatever adversity comes and just grind away,” said Highland freshman Sosefina Langi, who scored nine points and had seven rebounds in Saturday’s win. “She’s just a great leader who sincerely wants the best for all of us.”

Adversity came hard and often for Langi and her teammates throughout Saturday’s win. Not much of anything flowed on either side of the floor, with a somewhat desperate Red Devils team applying a lot of physical play, which was often matched by the Rams. The game featured 43 fouls called and 53 combined free throws taken in what could very well be described as a slugfest.

Glasker was on the brunt end of a lot of whistles, and had to battle through foul trouble throughout.

“That was definitely frustrating, especially with this being my last high school game,” Glasker said. “I had to sit a lot of the time, so that was frustrating, but we pushed through it.”

The good news regarding Glasker’s foul trouble was Highland establishing a big 21-8 lead at the half, which gave way to a second half in which Springville only managed to cut the lead to no fewer than seven points. Glasker did her best through all of it, calming down her younger teammates during the tense moments which always accompany highly-physical contests.

“We couldn’t have done this without her,” Langi said. “I’m so grateful for her being there for me today, just like she’s always been.”

Also showing big for the Rams was Bria Neeleman, who hit a big 3-pointer to end the first half and finished with seven points and four rebounds, along with Lei Makaui, who also scored seven.

As for Schneider, Saturday’s win was a big moment for him personally, although he was quick to reflect the moment on his players.

“We’ve definitely had our ups and downs since I became head coach here five years ago, so I’m just happy most of all for the girls who have put in the time to get this,” Schneider said. “But for me, as someone who has played and coached for many, many years without winning a championship, it really is special, and I’m just so blessed to have girls who believed in me. That’s the best part of all of this — to have a team that believed and then worked so hard to get what we did today.”

Deseret News 5A all-tournament team

MVP — Kaija Glasker, Highland

Sosefina Langi, Highland

Kayla Jackson, Springville

Lauryn Deede, Springville

Maddison Warren, Lehi

Samiana Suguturaga, Mountain View