Olympus pulls away late for intense win over rival SkylineJan 28, 2021 01:09PM ● By Travis Barton
Alyssa Blanck reacts at the end of the game as Olympus beat Skyline 62-52. Blanck finished with 18 points, 10 rebounds and five steals. (City Journals)
By Travis Barton | [email protected]
An intense and potentially region-defining matchup Tuesday night saw the Olympus girls basketball team pull out a 62-52 victory over rivals Skyline. The win gives the edge to the Titans in Region 6 having now beaten both the Eagles and Highland.
But don’t be fooled by the score, this win did not come easy.
It was a game that saw Olympus jump out to a seven-point first-quarter lead, before the Eagles stormed back for a two-point halftime advantage, only for the Titans to pull away late.
Almost like a heavyweight bout, the two teams exchanged punch after punch.
“Super stressful, but super fun,” was how Titans head coach Whitney Hunsaker described the game afterwards. “I just love any competitive game and Skyline's going to give you that. They're super competitive, super strong defensively, so you know it's one of those games where you just have to take it one possession at a time and just chip away at the process.”
For Skyline, head coach Sam White noted the team is still young (the Eagles didn’t have injured senior leader Grace Marsh) and the game was “frustrating.”
“(Olympus) did some very good things, they’re a great team, very well coached, Whitney’s doing just a fabulous job with that group,” White said. “We kind of had some mental lapses, I thought Tina (Njike) played a pretty good game, in the first half we were all behind on a lot of rotations.”
The 10-point margin of victory was the biggest separation of the night between the teams. After a slow start for Skyline, the game then featured multiple lead changes. Whether it was Skyline freshmen Lauren Johnson or Abbie Leonard hitting big threes, Olympus sophomore Avie Karren coming up with big steals and rebounds, Skyline star Njike powering through for 13 of her game-high 19 points in the second half or Olympus point guard Brooklyn Davies knocking in 16 points while dictating the rhythm of the game; there were performances across the court.
But the Titans mistake-free second half proved the difference. Especially a 7-0 run to start the second half that began with a three from junior star Alyssa Blanck.
“That 7-0 run was big for us, gave us a little more momentum,” Hunsaker said. “We only had three turnovers in the second half so we definitely zoned in and got business done.”
Hustle plays in the fourth quarter by the Titans were also crucial. With the Titans starting to pull away late in the game, they were able to come down with three offensive rebounds to keep possession alive knocking another minute off the clock.
“At the end of games we’ve got to still be aggressive. Those minutes are super valuable,” White said. “You can't give up (offensive) rebounds and let them keep taking time off the clock.”
While the game featured two of the state’s top scorers in Blanck and Njike. For Hunsaker, she was pleased they achieved their goal of three scorers in double digits (Blanck 18, Abby Topham 17 and Davies 16), as well as an all-around team performance.
“Alyssa’s a stellar player and she’s going to get her points, but it’s hard for people to guard us if I get more kids looking to score,” Hunsaker said, also noting Karren’s role both defensively and on the boards. “Everyone just nailed their role tonight.”
The loss comes during the toughest part of Skyline’s region schedule having played at Highland and Olympus before going to Murray on Friday for the last of a three game road stand. The Eagles fell to 5-2 in region while Olympus and Highland both stand at 6-1 through the first round of region games. White is excited for another chance to face the local rivals.
“I want another shot at those guys and I want them at home, but they did a fabulous job tonight,” he said.
With the win, Olympus currently holds the tiebreaker over Highland having beat them to open region (the Titans head to Sugar House on Friday for the rematch).
What might be most impressive though is how far the Olympus girls basketball program has come. Hunsaker told the Journal in 2017 about her desire and the challenges she faced to build a program at what is not a traditionally powerful girls basketball school like Skyline. Three years ago, the team went 1-20, forcing Hunsaker to take a step back, evaluate herself and decide to focus on fundamentals.
“And that's how it’s been ever since, we do fundamentals every day, we focus on the little things every day and that has built our program,” she said. “You can't build a tower without your building blocks, you can't have it without your foundation.”
For Hunsaker, who ironically played for Skyline as a high schooler, building a program with wins against a rival school located only 1.4 miles away, may lead to a few more kids coming to Olympus.
“I just love where it's been going,” she said of the program. “I’ve been pleased, we've got more kids coming in every year for tryouts. It's so exciting, I just love watching it develop and move into something that I've dreamed of, a team that’s competitive.”