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Ridgeline’s Emma Anderson is The Herald Journal’s All-Valley Player of the Year.

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When Emma Anderson was a young girl, she quickly developed a passion for soccer.

Anderson’s zeal for basketball was relatively low-key until she started playing at the club level for the “Utah Dynasty” as an eighth-grader. The College Ward native referred to that experience as “a game changer” and went on to say “that really developed me into a basketball player.”

Ridgeline head coach Ainsli Jenks is certainly grateful Anderson’s enthusiasm for basketball continued to grow. After all, the daughter of Dixie and Todd Anderson was a big reason why the Riverhawks captured back-to-back Region 12 titles and went 68-35 during her four seasons in the program.

“Emma has been an integral part of our program since her freshman year,” Jenks said. “As a freshman, she stepped into the starting lineup when we lost a senior to a season-ending injury, and has been a starter ever since. She’s been an absolute monster that opponents have had to deal with for the past four years. She’s so strong inside offensively and on the boards, averaging a double-double as a junior.”

Indeed, Anderson made an immediate impact as a freshman as she recorded double-doubles against Weber and Bear River, and averaged 6.9 points and 6.4 rebounds a game. Things only got better for the 6-foot-1 post player, who wrapped up her high school career as the leading scorer (938 points) and rebounder (721) in Ridgeline history. The first-team all-state selection is also the program record-holder with 24 career double-doubles.

Anderson has always been a great rebounder, but her offensive game really improved the second half of her prep career. No. 53 averaged a double-double as a junior — 10.4 points and 11.7 rebounds an outing — and shouldered the role of Ridgeline’s leading scorer as senior.

Anderson finished second among all Cache Valley prep players by averaging 15.6 points per game during the 2019-20 campaign, and she led all local performers — girls and boys — in rebounding for the second straight season at 9.5 an outing. Anderson, who knocked down 54 percent of her field goal attempts, racked up 10 double-doubles as a senior and netted 10 or more points in 20 of Ridgeline’s 25 games.

The 18-year-old also paced the Riverhawks in blocks (0.7 per game), finished second in steals (2.2 pg) and fourth in assists (2.0 pg). Indeed, Anderson was a well-rounded performer for Ridgeline and was selected as the 2019-20 Herald Journal All-Valley Player of the Year.

Anderson is the first Ridgeline girls basketball player to receive this award.

“I’m so excited for her,” Jenks said of the award. “She’s a great competitor and a great person. She was a big part of the success that Ridgeline girls basketball has had. ... We’re going to miss Emma greatly.”

Likewise, Anderson is going to miss playing for the Riverhawks, although her journey playing basketball is not complete. The youngest of six kids in her family will announce where she will play collegiately in the near future.

“I believe that you’re a person of your surroundings ... and luckily I’ve had amazing teammates and amazing friends, and everyone around me that shaped me to be the person I am,” she said. “And I’m happy with who I am, so a huge thank you to everyone (for helping me get here).”

Anderson has made countless memories during her time at Ridgeline, but two of her favorite ones were wins against intra-valley rivals Mountain Crest and Green Canyon. As a freshman, she contributed with 11 points and nine rebounds against the Mustangs, who were comprised of athletes she grew up playing with.

“I was a freshman and I had to earn my spot, and so then I think that was the game I played really well in, and it just kind of solidified that I can play at the varsity level,” Anderson said.

The Green Canyon game Anderson is referring to was Ridgeline’s 56-47 victory at home on Jan. 9. No. 53 celebrated her 18th birthday by pouring in 22 points on 9 of 14 shooting from the field. Additionally, she pulled down 12 rebounds and added two assists, two steals and two blocks.

“That was a really nice win because all of our hard work had paid off ... and then we used that momentum going forward into the rest of region play,” Anderson said.

The senior also played lights out in Ridgeline’s 61-50 triumph over Green Canyon a few weeks later in North Logan. Anderson recorded another double-double as she netted 20 points on 8 of 12 shooting, corralled 13 rebounds and dished out four assists.

Heading into the season, Anderson felt the Wolves were the team to beat, especially since the Riverhawks graduated first-team all-state performer Halle Livingston and lost Sarah Litchford when her family moved away.

“There were a lot of people that were just like, ‘you’re not going to win; don’t expect to be region champs,’” said Anderson, who played soccer for the Riverhawks as a freshman and sophomore. “And that was the thing was just because we won last year, doesn’t mean we’re going to win this year. And so the thing we really focused on is we have the offense, but what’s going to win it is defense.

“And so every time we came to practice we walked in and we focused up, and Green Canyon was the one to beat. So I think what went a lot into that game is (the Wolves) have so many amazing players and it’s going to be hard, so we have to lock in our defense, and I think that’s what we all did is we bought into it and said, ‘OK, we want this.’”

Anderson also had monster performances this past season in wins against Box Elder and a very good North Summit team that went 24-2. The four-year starter drained 12 of 18 field goal attempts and burned the Bees to the tune of 29 points and 15 boards. Anderson accumulated 25 points on 10 of 14 shooting and added 10 boards against North Summit.

With Anderson anchoring the paint, the Riverhawks went 40-10 her final two seasons. Ridgeline advanced to the 4A state championship game a year ago, where it lost to an undefeated Cedar squad. Ridgeline fell in heartbreaking fashion to eventual state runner-up Pine View, 52-51, in the 4A quarterfinals last month.

The Riverhawks got off to a slow start this winter, but won 14 of their final 15 games of the regular season, and Anderson was the catalyst to that impressive surge.

What were the biggest strides Anderson felt she made from her junior to senior season?

“Those were my two focuses is I wanted to be better around the basket, finish my post-ups ... but I also wanted to be able to defend from the perimeter,” said Anderson, who averaged 8.8 points and 6.4 rebounds per game as a sophomore. “And so I think I did that pretty well, and my coaches deserve a lot of credit for that.”

The unassuming senior made it a point to thank several people by name for helping her develop into the player and person she is today. Anderson saved her biggest praise for her parents.

“I definitely wouldn’t be the person I am without them,” she said.

TOP NEWCOMER

Melanie Hiatt, Fr., Sky View

This freshman played some of her best basketball at the end of the season, scoring 18 points in a huge win over Ridgeline and contributing with 19 points and 10 rebounds in Sky View’s first game against Green Canyon.

Hiatt led the Bobcats in rebounds (8.1 per game) and blocks (1.0 pg), and chipped in with 7.8 points an outing. No. 25, who recorded six double-doubles, was a big reason why Sky View won its final six regular season games.

Coach’s comment: “Melanie was so solid for us this year. Melanie surpassed all of our expectations this year. Each game she grew so much and improved. Her ability to rebound and finish around the rim helped us have a great second half of region. She is so great to coach and I’m looking forward to see what she does for us next year.”

FIRST TEAM

Kennedy Eskelson, Sr., Green Canyon

The Region 12 Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year was one of 4A’s most well-rounded performers this past winter.

Eskelson paced the Wolves in scoring (14.7 ppg), assists (3.1 pg) and steals (2.1 pg) and was their second-leading rebounder (6.1 pg). The first-team all-state honoree sparkled during the playoffs as she averaged 18.3 ppg and poured in 22 points against now two-time reigning champion Cedar in the semifinals.

Coach’s comment: “Kennedy has been an essential piece to the puzzle of our success at Green Canyon since we opened. She led our offense as the point guard, was one of our best defenders and was able to keep up a high level of intensity as she played nearly every minute of every game. She’s put in countless hours of work and has set a great example to our younger players.”

Kinley Falslev, Sr., Green Canyon

The future Utah State University player was one of the 4A’s top 3-point shooters and one of the region’s most consistent scorers the past three seasons.

Falslev, who has splendid form on her jump shot, finished first among all local players with 67 treys. The second-team all-state pick netted 10 or more points in 11 of Green Canyon’s final 12 games, and finished second on her team in scoring (12.0 ppg) and assists (2.5 pg) and third in steals (1.8 pg).

Coach’s comment: “Kinley is a phenomenal player who has put in incredible amounts of time in the gym and weight room. She is relentless when it comes to wanting to improve. She’s an incredible shooter, but her whole game has evolved. She was a great leader for us and really anchored our defensive communication this season.”

Amber Kartchner, Jr., Logan

The two-time All-Valley Player of the Year is already one of the most decorated and talented high school players to ever come out of the valley, and she still has one season left.

Kartchner, who has verbally committed to BYU, led all local players in scoring (17.2 ppg) and racked up 26 or 27 points against four teams this season. The first-team all-state selection also paced the Grizzlies in steals (2.4 pg), tied for the top spot in blocks (0.8 pg) and finished second on the team in rebounds (5.0 pg) and assists (1.9 pg).

Coach’s comment: “Amber had another great year. She was able to perform at the highest level for all aspects. Her scoring is second to none. She was able to make those around her better. Defensively, she did all you’d ask. She’s a teammate you want to have. Sometimes I had to say to be more aggressive.”

Cassee Pugmire, Sr., Preston

This first-team all-district selection made an impact on both ends of court for a solid Preston squad, which went 19-9 and won three games in five days to punch its ticket to the state tournament.

Pugmire, who scored in double figures in Preston’s final five games, led her team in scoring (9.2 ppg) and finished second in rebounding (6.5 pg), steals (2.2 pg) and blocks (1.3 pg), plus tied for the No. 2 spot in assists (1.6 pg). No. 23 recorded a double-double against a very good Caldwell team in the playoffs.

Coach’s comment: “Cassee plays with a lot of desire. She led us in scoring and minutes played, and was second in steals and rebounds.”

Brayli Jenks, Sr., Ridgeline

Jenks was a huge reason why Anderson had such a memorable season for the Riverhawks and shot such a high percentage from the field.

No. 13 led all 4A players in assists as a junior and finished first among all classifications in that department — 5.7 an outing — as a senior. Jenks was also a great shooter as she was second among all local players with 58 treys, and the second-team all-state honoree averaged 10.7 ppg, 3.0 rpg and 2.2 spg.

Coach’s comment: “Brayli is a point guard through and through; her ability to play the position allowed her to dictate tempo and set the tone for games. She’s able to dissect an opponent’s full-court press with great passing and ball-handling. She developed into a great outside shooter over the course of her career. Her court vision is her greatest strength.”

Haley Anderson, Jr., Ridgeline

Like Emma Anderson, Haley Anderson has been an impact performer at the varsity level for the Riverhawks since she was a freshman.

No. 24 showed her mettle on both ends of the court as she led Ridgeline in steals (2.7 pg) and was second in scoring (12.8 ppg) and third in assists (2.3 pg). The second-team all-state selection went off for 25 points in wins against Bonneville and Bear River.

Coach’s comment: “Haley is the type of player any coach loves to coach because of her passion for the game. She loves working hard and comes in every day to do just that. She pushes her teammates to be better. She has a beautiful shot and has worked tirelessly to help make herself even more versatile offensively. ... We’re lucky that Haley comes back for another season.”

SECOND TEAM

Macy Hellstern, So., Sky View

Like Hiatt, Hellstern peaked at the end of the season for the Bobcats, who came on strong and tied the Wolves for second place in the region standings.

No. 10 scored in double figures in 10 of Sky View’s final 12 games. In addition to leading the Bobcats in scoring (11.3 ppg), the third-team all-state honoree paced her squad in assists (4.2 pg) and steals (1.9) and was third in rebounding (4.7 pg).

Coach’s comment: “Macy was our constant rock out on the court. As our point guard, she was a leader for us. She has an amazing ability to create for herself and her teammates. She got stronger as the season went on and she is a big reason why we finished so strong in region. I love coaching her and I’m excited to see what next year holds for her.”

Shante’ Falslev, Sr., Green Canyon

The first-team all-state volleyball player — Falslev was tabbed the Deseret News 4A MVP — also shined for the Wolves on the basketball court.

No. 22 averaged 10.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg and 1.9 spg en route to garnering third-team all-state accolades in her final season. Falslev, who scored a career-high 22 points against a very good Farmington team, ranked in the top three on her team in scoring, rebounds and steals.

Coach’s comment: “Shante’ is one of the hardest working and most resilient players I have ever had the pleasure of coaching. She played almost every position for us this year and did it with a smile on her face. She was always willing to do whatever she could to help the team. She was one of the first players to enter the gym for practice every day and always one of the last to leave.”

Kajsia Fuller, Jr., West Side

This junior was called upon to shoulder West Side’s scoring load because her cousin, Sienna Fuller, missed most of the season with a knee injury, and she delivered.

In addition to leading the Pirates in scoring (14.8 ppg), Kajsia Fuller matched SV’s Hiatt for second place among all local players in rebounding (8.1 pg). No. 31 shot 44.3 percent from the field and 72 percent from the free throw line, and was second on her team in blocks (1.2 pg).

Coach’s comment: “Kajsia is a player that just doesn’t come along very often. She is what we call a ‘student of the game’. She is a sponge when it comes to learning and implementing those things into her game. She is a player who pushes hard in practice and pushes the other players to be better. ... I am so grateful to have the opportunity to coach such an amazing player and person.”

Kylie Larsen, Jr., Preston

Larsen parlayed another big season as one of Preston’s and her classification’s star soccer players to success on the hardwood.

No. 32 paced Preston in rebounding (7.7 pg) and blocked shots (1.5 pg), and was the team’s third-leading scorer (7.7 ppg). Larsen, who knocked down 45 percent of her field goal attempts, enjoyed her best game of the season when she burned Marsh Valley with 22 points and 12 boards.

Coach’s comment: “Kylie led the team in rebounds and was third is scoring. In games that we were able to get Kylie involved in the offense, we always won.”

Havyn Brown, So., Mountain Crest

This sophomore was one of her team’s most consistent performer this season and a big reason why the Mustangs were much more competitive against the best teams in Region 12.

Brown, a second-team all-region pick, led Mountain Crest in scoring (8.7 ppg) and also chipped in with 1.6 rpg and 1.0 spg. No. 11 netted 10 or more points in games against Ridgeline, Green Canyon, Logan and Sky View as a sophomore.

Coach’s comment: “Havyn is a great asset to our team. Her knowledge and love for the game is unparalleled for someone her age. She is always hungry, wanting to learn more by watching film of herself, and college and professional games. She seeks out and finds every opportunity to get in the gym to work on her shooting. She is a team player and considers the girls on her team her sisters.”

Taylor Rose, Jr., Logan

Rose was a solid contributor for the Grizzlies as a freshman and sophomore, but made significant strides as a junior.

No. 1 finished either second or third on her team in scoring (10.0 ppg), rebounding (4.9 pg), steals (2.1 pg) and blocked shots (0.6 pg). Rose, a second-team all-region honoree, nearly propelled Logan to an upset victory over three-time reigning Idaho 2A state champion Soda Springs as she contributed 16 points, seven boards and four assists.

Coach’s comment: “I feel Taylor had a coming out year. She took her game to another level. She began to knock down threes regularly, which opens up her game of getting to the rim. She runs the court and finishes with the best. Defensively, I could ask her to guard the bigs or the guards. It was fun to see her grow.”

Jason Turner is a sports reporter for The Herald Journal. He can be reached at jturner@hjnews.com or 435-792-7237.

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