TAYLORSVILLE — When Jamie Nielson saw her role on last year’s Sky View title team diminish, she never considered giving up the sport she loved.
On the contrary, she gave basketball even more of her time and attention.
“It gave me the fire for this season,” said the senior, who lead a hot-shooting Sky View team with 20 points in a 72-37 win over Lone Peak in the first round of the 5A state tournament. “This year, I worked hard in the off-season and that was my motivation.”
Her motivation wasn’t just more playing time. It was the chance to help the team do in the 5A ranks what they did in 4A last year — win a state championship.
“It definitely helps us a lot,” Nielson said of last year’s success. “We knew coming from 4A to 5A would be a totally different story. We had to come out strong because every team we meet is going to be a good team. But we did have experience and confidence coming in.” That was evident in the way the Bobcats played in Tuesday’s opening round. While some teams struggled with nerves, the Bobcats shot so well, they missed only a handful shots in the first half while storming to a 44-19 halftime lead.
Head coach Vanessa Hall said she believes her players understand what’s required because of last year’s success.
“These girls have played a lot of ball,” said the first-year head coach. “Last year we had a successful season. We know we can do it, and I think that’s where the confidence comes from. They flat out know how to win.” They’ve also earned their own No. 3 ranking and new expectations.
“Every team we’ve faced, we’ve faced challenges, some adversity, but they just kept going,” Hall said. “The girls just work hard day in and day out, and they’ve improved over the course of the season, which is really all you can ask for as a coach.”
The Knights were led by Emma Clark, who finished with 16 points. Savannah Flanary added eight points.
Sky View junior Kaylee Carlsen said she felt the team’s intensity helped them get off to a solid start.
“I think we came out how we wanted,” said Carlsen, who scored 19 points. “And our shots were falling today, and that worked for us.”
Hall said coaches can’t always anticipate how a team will handle the first round of the playoffs.
“You never know,” she said. “State starts and everyone (has a) clean slate. We knew it was going to be a tough game. We knew Lone Peak was a tough, physical team. I thought our defense led to some offense, and I thought our shots were falling today. We’ve got to make sure we keep that up for the rest of the tournament.”