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Sugar House Journal

After an up-and-down regular season, Highland girls basketball catches fire in playoffs

Lana Olevao goes for a layup during practice in January 2017. (Travis Barton/City Journals)

By Josh McFadden | [email protected]

In the long high school girls basketball season, it’s natural for teams to have highs and lows. The Highland Rams were at their best when it mattered most. 

The Rams struggled during portions of their non-region and region schedule, so not a lot of people expected the team to have ended up just a handful of points away from playing for the Class 5A state championship. 

The Rams were a big surprise in the tournament this past February, winning a pair of games against favored opponents and advancing to the semifinal round. With the right to play or the title on the line, Highland fell to Region 6 foe East 44-38. It was the third time this season that East got the better of the Rams.

It would have been easy for Highland to fold against the Region 6 co-champions. East jumped out to commanding 27-11 lead at halftime behind hot shooting and solid defense. Highland managed just two points in the opening six minutes. 

The second half, however, belonged to Highland. The Rams showed heart by clawing away at the big deficit. As the fourth quarter began, Highland whittled the score to 35-27. Unfortunately for the Rams, they didn’t have quite enough in the tank to pull off the come-from-behind upset, as East advanced to the championship.

Lana Olevao led the way for Highland in both scoring and rebounding. The 6-foot senior had 13 points and eight rebounds. Other key contributors were Misini Fifita, who had eight points, and Kaija Glasker, who also had eight points to go along with three boards. 

Though the loss was heartbreaking, it’s difficult to imagine anyone expected Highland to go that far in the postseason. The Rams were a ho-hum 4-6 in region play on the year and entered the state tournament with an overall mark of 11-11. Highland finished just a game ahead of fifth-place Murray, barely grabbing the final playoff berth in the region. 

As a reward, the Rams drew Corner Canyon, the Region 7 co-champs, which entered the tournament with an impressive 20-2 record. 

Clearly, Highland wasn’t intimidated.

The Rams rode a big first quarter in which it outscored Corner Canyon 18-8. After a back-and-forth second quarter, Highland led 31-20 at the break. Even though Corner Canyon outscored Highland 15-6 in the third, the Rams were able to hang on with a 14-10 run in the final period, resulting in a 51-45 victory. Highland scored the enormous upset with efficient offense and great defense. Corner Canyon made just 14 of its 66 shots, and the Rams got double figures in points from Glasker (17) and Olivia Beckstead (14). Fifita hauled down nine rebounds in the victory. 

Highland had little time to celebrate, as two days later, on Feb. 21, it squared off with Woods Cross, which placed third in Region 5. The Wildcats brought a 14-8 record in the contest, but once again, the Rams didn’t seem to care. Trailing 20-19 at halftime, Highland went on a 19-5 surge in the third quarter and did just enough in the fourth quarter to secure another upset, 51-41.

In the quarterfinal victory over Woods Cross, the defense was once again stingy, holding the Wildcats to 29 percent shooting. Olevao also had a monster game, racking up 19 points and dominating the glass with 17 rebounds. Taryn Johnson added 11 points. 

Highland returns Glasker, its leading scorer at 12 points a game, next season. Beckstead will also be back for her senior season. The Rams will miss the services of Olevao, Johnson and Fifita, who will graduate.