Before Saturday’s 6A state championship game at the Dee Events Center in Ogden, I had the opportunity to chat for a few minutes with some young Pleasant Grove fans.
We talked about the big game against American Fork, about how much they wanted to see their Vikings get the win.
I remember telling them how impressed I was with the Pleasant Grove team and what they’d done this season, as well as the character of the players I’ve gotten to know on the team.
I then added that I felt the same way about the Cavemen and that, in the end, I would be both happy and sad no matter who won.
I don’t know if my young friends could really understand exactly how powerful those emotions are.
Personally, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I had one of my colleagues tell me at one of the myriad of state playoff games that I’ve been at in the last couple of weeks that he isn’t a fan of the tears that come after losses, that to him if sports aren’t about having fun then don’t play.
He’s wrong. Only by investing so much that it hurts can you get all the benefits from competing.
When I stood on the floor after American Fork’s 66-57 win over Pleasant Grove, it was those immensely-powerful feelings of the players and coaches that meant the most.
I watched Caveman head coach Ryan Cuff enfold his son Tanner — one of the guards for American Fork — in a huge bear hug. The father had taken the coaching job before the year began, uprooting his soon-to-be senior son in the process.
“There was a conversation in St. George about whether I was going to continue to coach him, because I felt like I was on him all the time,” Ryan Cuff said. “When this job opened up, we knew it would be a challenge but he saw that it was something that could push him. It’s an incredible feeling.”
Then there was senior Hayden Franson, getting a photo with his older sister Taylor Franson who won a state title with the Cavemen girls basketball team in her senior year in 2017.
“It’s amazing to say that both my sister and I won state our senior years,” Hayden Franson said. “It’s just everything.”
I looked around that swarming mass of American Fork players, coaches and fans and couldn’t help but think of other family connections:
- Freshman Noah Moeaki’s sister Taylor Moeaki was on that 2017 Caveman girls team and was named the Daily Herald’s Girls Basketball Player of the Year.
- Isaac Johnson’s older brother Spencer Johnson was one of my favorite boys basketball players to watch during his time at American Fork.
- I’ve even known Trey Stewart’s father, Ray Stewart, since he joined the coaching staff of the BYU women’s basketball team in 2011.
But while all the euphoria for the Cavemen and their families washed over the court, I also made my way over to the opposite locker room. That was where the disappointment of Pleasant Grove was just as potent and powerful.
You see, I have similar ties to the Vikings:
- I’ve known guard Kawika Akina’s dad for years, since his days of coaching the Timpview girls basketball team.
- I recall interviewing Casey Brown as a sophomore after he made four 3-pointers in a playoff game.
- I remember my Daily Herald co-worker, Darnell Dickson, doing a tremendous feature on center Matt Van Komen back in 2015 when he was a 7-foot-3, 14-year-old.
I watched as those young men came out of the locker room after being the state runner-up for the second straight year and my heart ached for their pain.
It ached for Pleasant Grove head coach Randy McAllister, who is one of the best men I have known but who wasn’t able to get that elusive state championship victory — but later that night it exulted in the victory of Corner Canyon head coach Dan Lunt (who I knew during his many years at Payson) who won his first title in 30 years of coaching.
So many ups and downs.
I’ve been on the floor countless times as Utah Valley boys and girls basketball teams have raised the state title trophies and cut down the nets.
I’ve spent far more time waiting outside quiet locker rooms in dim arena hallways, wanting to make sure to a local team who has just seen its season come to an end has a chance to have their successes recognized anyway.
Ups and downs, thrilling wins and agonizing losses, exuberant dogpiles and tear-filled trudges.
It makes for an exhilarating, exhausting two weeks.
But, as I said before, I wouldn’t have it any other way.