Editor’s Note: For 20 days in April, the Deseret News will profile 20 elite high school athletes from the 2020 graduating class and how they’re coping with the premature end of senior life on and off the field.

SALT LAKE CITY — West High senior Whitney Banz and hall of fame golfer Lee Trevino have something in common — they both know the agony of losing an eight-hole sudden death playoff.

Trevino’s eight-hole playoff loss in 1978 is one of five 8-hole playoffs in PGA Tour history behind only an 11-hole playoff back in 1949. Banz’s 8-hole playoff loss came last spring in the 5A championship.

With top five state tournament finishes in each of her freshman, sophomore and junior seasons — including last year’s runner-up finish — Banz was very much looking forward to trying to chase that elusive state title this season.

The spread of COVID-19 has put those aspirations in jeopardy, but golf represents only a portion of what she’s missing in the last few months of her senior season.

“I really love my school and I love the people who go there and a lot of them have done so much for me.” — West’s Whitney Banz

She misses the students in the special education class at West that she spends four periods in each day as a teacher’s aide.

“I love those kids, and it makes me so sad. I don’t even know if they’re OK. I can’t really check up on them,” said Banz.

She misses her classmates and teachers. Their impact on her life over the past four years was her inspiration for writing a speech and trying out for one of the four senior graduation speeches — which she was selected for. She has no idea if she’ll still get to give the speech.

“I really love my school and I love the people who go there and a lot of them have done so much for me,” said Banz, who’s earned a dual golf and basketball scholarship at Westminster College.

And of course she misses golf. She’s found time for the occasional round with family during the UHSAA suspension — and when courses have been closed she’s been creative with ways to try and chip and putt — but none of it is a substitute for competition.

Banz’s heart aches for all the things she’s missing, but they are sacrifices she isn’t hesitating making.

“It’s worth it to give up these things we love to save the people we love,” said Banz. “I’m more than willing to give up all these things, my senior golf season or any season for any sport for however long is necessary if it saves somebody’s grandma or it saves somebody’s uncle or niece. To me the sacrifice is worth it to save somebody’s life.”

One of the biggest influencers in Banz’s life that’s helped steer her perspective was a student in the special education class. She was only a T.A. for one class last year, but this senior student with spina bifida made a positive impact on everyone he came in contact with. He was one of the managers on West’s basketball team last year, and his death on the day of one of West’s games after a brief one-day hospitalization hit close to home for Banz.

“That was a really sad day for me, it made me understand that there’s more to life than basketball or golf or a graduation ceremony. It was really inspirational for me to meet him and the things he taught people, and the things he taught me,” said Banz.

His influence, along with everyone else she’s met in those special education classes, is why Banz plans on majoring in special education at Westminster.

When she reflects how that became her career passion, she said it’s more luck than anything. During a free period back in her sophomore, she decided to pop her head into the classroom out of curiosity. She started helping out on that very first day and hasn’t stopped since.

“There was this instant love and care for them, they’re literally like angels on Earth, I don’t know how to describe it. They make me so happy,” said Banz.

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The golf course brings a different type of joy, but a joy nonetheless. West High’s golf team got one meet under its belt before the sports shutdown, with Banz shooting a 72 at Rose Park and finishing in second place.

Finishing second on her home course has motivated Banz to work even harder on her golf game during the sports shutdown. She just doesn’t know if she’ll get another chance to show off that hard work carrying around a West High School golf bag again.

“I do really hope that we get to have some sort of state tournament, and I’ve been working really hard every single day so if there is that state tournament I’ll be able to battle for that position,” said Banz.

There’s a lot Banz hopes she gets to do again at her beloved West High before graduation.

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