The Tooele girls basketball program has enjoyed a resurgence in recent seasons, and in order to keep that momentum going, it will be up to a talented group of underclassmen to step up.
Fortunately, the Buffaloes have a couple young stars-in-the-making in junior Aysha Lewis and sophomore Alivia Cluff, along with sophomore forward Breanna Beer. Those three, along with seniors Gabrielle Mahoe, Natalee Bevan and Kennedy Evans, will be crucial to Tooele’s success this year.
“We have a great chance to go far as long as we work as a team and trust one another,” Cluff said. “If we can just build on those basics, talk on defense, talk on offense, know everything and trust each other, we’ll be able to be good.”
Tooele coach Randy Goss is entering his fourth year in charge of the Buffs’ program, and they have taken steps forward each season. Last year, Tooele went 12-10 overall and 7-5 in Region 11, including two wins over Juan Diego.
But five seniors from that team have since graduated, and another two key returners — junior guard Madi Baker and senior forward Jy’onie Camacho — are currently sidelined with injuries and are facing uncertain timelines for their respective returns.
“I think we’re competitive now,” Goss said. “We just need a little more game time to apply what we’ve been learning.”
Fortunately, Lewis, Cluff and Beer are all capable of filling major roles. Lewis won the White-Kimber Award last year as “the Tooele girls basketball player who best exemplifies leadership skills and character while playing an integral role on the team.” While she is still an underclassmen, Lewis brings a confidence to the court that should help a young group as it learns the ins and outs of varsity basketball.
“I know my own skill set, I know what we can do and I know that we can all go far,” Lewis said. The only thing to be nervous about is our own expectations for ourselves. We’ve got to make sure that no matter what, we’ve got to keep our heads up and keep going.”
Beer will be relied upon to provide leadership and rebounding. Still just a sophomore, she said the team’s familiarity with one another makes it easier for her to step into such an important role.
“We’ve been playing together for so long now that it doesn’t feel like I’m younger,” Beer said. “It just feels like I’m part of the team.”
Bevan and Mahoe are hoping to play bigger roles as seniors. Bevan missed most of last season with an ankle injury, and Mahoe has risen up the depth chart. With Baker and Camacho out of the lineup, players like sophomore Grace Prescott and freshman Rylie Hogan are getting the opportunity to play more varsity basketball as well, gaining experience that could pay off in the long run.
“It’s kind of just mix-and-match what we can at the time,” Goss said.
Tooele was picked third in the Region 10 preseason coaches’ poll behind Juan Diego and Stansbury, but the Buffs feel there could be even bigger things ahead for them if they can put things together. Lewis said she felt the Buffs could reach Class 4A’s Final Four, and Goss said a deep playoff run isn’t out of the question.
“I think we’re coming along,” Goss said. “We just haven’t had that varsity experience. We’ve just got to keep improving every day, and every game when we step on the floor, we’re taking what we’ve learned and we keep progressing.
“I always believe that we can go as far as we want. Even with the lack of experience, with the desire to win and keep improving we can go as far as we want. We can battle for the region title — we just have to get all our pieces together. By the time region comes around, I think we’ll have it figured out.”
The Buffaloes opened their season with a 58-32 loss to Hunter on Nov. 26. They faced rival Grantsville at home Thursday night after press time, with a road game against Green Canyon scheduled for Friday.