Three years ago, Maycee Stenquist was the lone freshman on a state-ranked Hillcrest High School girls basketball team that won its second consecutive 5A District 5-6 title en route to a program best 23-3 season.
On Saturday at Idaho Falls High School, she was one of six seniors on a Hillcrest team celebrating a 45-37 win over Skyline after a wild 4A District 6 title game fitting for a wild week of district tournament play.
Unlike three years ago, there was no first-round bye, home court and No. 1 seed for districts. These Knights reached Saturday’s game as the No. 3 seed and after two wins earlier in the week, the latter of which was a 38-34 win over No. 2 seeded Blackfoot. Their opponent, No. 4 seeded Skyline, had a similar journey. The Grizzlies also won two previous games this week, including handing No. 1 seeded Bonneville its first loss, 50-44, on Tuesday.
Stenquist acknowledged the differences brought on by three years, including the afterglow of Saturday’s win compared to the 2016 title, and reached a conclusion. The senior year district title felt sweeter.
“I’ve worked my butt off the last three years,” Stenquist said. “My freshman year, I wasn’t as much of a leader. This year, I feel like I’m more of a third coach out on the court. I’m so glad it all paid off.”
Saturday’s postgame celebration was also familiar for Hillcrest head coach Alan Sargent, but with a twist. Three years ago, he was Hillcrest’s JV coach and had a daughter, senior Kaitlyn Sargent, on the team. Saturday he was the last to climb the ladder to cut down the last bit of net on the west hoop and he had another daughter, senior Ashlyn Sargent, to celebrate with as well as Kaitlyn, now one of his assistant coaches.
“(Ashlyn) got to watch her older sister win that one,” he said. “This is nice. Early on (this season), we were in that learning stage. These last three to four weeks, we haven’t been doing anything new. We told them, if you peak at the right time, you can win this thing. We may have been the only ones who believed that, but we did.”
Saturday’s win also came with two starters--Jaycee Weathermon and Hallie Tueller--fouled out by 3:34 left in the game. The Knights and Grizzlies played neck and neck through the third quarter, playing to an 11-11 tie to end the first quarter and prompting three lead changes in the second quarter that ended with a 23-22 Skyline lead off Sophie Anderson free throws. Fouls piled up in a third quarter where points were difficult to come by, as the teams combined to score 13 points and entered the fourth quarter knotted 29-29.
At the 6:14 mark of the fourth quarter, Weathermon fouled out and junior Hallie Carlson subbed in for her. When the clock hit 5:27, Carlson drained a 3-pointer to put the Knights up 34-29.
“We drew that up for her,” Sargent said. “We told her, they’re not gonna guard you because you’re a post. If you get open, shoot that 3.”
Carlson said there were no nerves and no hesitation when she got the open look, and she had high praise for her teammates carrying out that play.
“I really trusted my team,” said Carlson, who ended the night with five points. “That shot was clutch, but that wasn’t what won us the game. It took all of us.”
After three quarters of a game that had leads no larger than five, the Knights stretched their advantage to 42-33 with 2:34 left. Free throws then became key in that stretch, as Stenquist and Hillcrest freshman Macey Larsen combined to go 5-for-6. Stenquist emphatically pumped her fist at the final buzzer and was soon after picked up and embraced by Tueller.
“Those were the longest five minutes of my life,” Stenquist said of the final five minutes of the game. “I’m so proud of all of my teammates and coaches.”
Skyline coach Ty Keck said Stenquist’s leadership was on point in Saturday’s game, and the Knights succeeded in doing what they did in their win over Blackfoot: slowing down the game and changing their defense.
“I gotta say, Maycee Stenquist stepped it up,” Keck said. “I think what she did was that she stepped up and kept her team calm. They were patient. We kinda panicked. We started playing individual offensive basketball. Our youth showed tonight. This was good experience in a tough game for our girls.”
Freshman Mattie Olson and sophomore Sophie Anderson had eight points each for Skyline (11-12), which plays Thursday in an elimination game versus a to-be-determined opponent. Stenquist had 11 points, Larsen added eight and Tueller had six for Hillcrest (13-10), which begins the 4A state tournament Feb. 14 versus the District 4-5 runner-up.
Sargent, Stenquist and Carlson all said patience has paid off for the Knights in multiple ways--not rushing their shots and trusting in each other leading up to and during the district tournament. Entering state, they said they plan to keep that approach.
“A lot of people didn’t expect us to be here,” Carlson said. “This is the greatest feeling.”