By Noah Gillespie
Photos by Jean Glasser
Going into the semifinal game of the 3A boys basketball state tournament Feb. 26 against Desert Hills, the Juan Diego Soaring Eagle were one of the favorites to win it all, but it wasn’t to be.
“I knew if we played our game and played tough defense, we had a chance to make a run,” said junior guard Avery Ames. “Coach had seared it into our brains that defense is the key to victory, and we tried to focus on that leading up to the game.”
The game was back and forth nearly the entire time, with both teams playing scrappy defense and capitalizing on offensive opportunities, but Juan Diego was in foul trouble early on with Ames and junior forward Maliik Fagan-Foster having to spend time on the bench due to foul issues.
“Being in foul trouble definitely cost us,” Ames said. “I think it didn’t allow us to be as physical as we usually are.”
The Soaring Eagle ended up taking the lead early in the fourth quarter with heavy pressure on defense, but they could not capitalize on enough offensive chances to maintain it. The Eagle pulled within one point, but could not overcome the missed offensive opportunities and ultimately lost the game 49-42.
“It didn’t really sink in until I was in the locker room with the team,” senior point guard Gabe Colosimo said. “It felt like a pit in my stomach.”
The team, led by Colosimo, was trying to rebound from a heartbreaking loss in the state tournament against Cedar last year, a game that Colosimo was forced to sit out due to a broken bone he had suffered in the final regular season game against Morgan. The team fought without Colosimo, but came up short 40-35 to the Redmen.
“It was tough,” Colosimo said. “It was very emotional because basketball is such a big part of my life, and I felt like I could have made a difference.”
End of a Great Season
Head coach Drew Trost says he used last year’s injury setback as a team learning experience.
“It helped a lot of players gain confidence,” said Trost. “It showed them that they could do a lot themselves without their star player.”
Colosimo says he also used this as momentum heading into this season. “It inspired me a lot. It made me want to win even more this year,” Colosimo said.
One major contributor to the team this year was Fagan-Foster. He led the team in rebounds, averaging about six a game, and was the second-leading scorer with more than 12 points per contest.
“He helps take all the attention away from Gabe,” Trost said. “It makes it so teams can’t key in on one guy the whole game.”
The Eagle started off the season strong against tough competition that included 12 of the team’s first 13 games against opponents in higher classifications.
“It was huge,” Colosimo said. “It gave us a ton of confidence knowing that we could beat these schools with a lot more kids.”
Juan Diego went 10-4 in the preseason, which included a loss in the championship game of the Riverton Holiday Tournament to Riverton, a 5A school.
“We feel like we lost that game because we missed a lot of layups and shots we would normally make,” Trost said. “We instilled some new drills to help us improve for region play.”
The team learned from these tough preseason games and used gritty defense, holding opponents to about 52 points a game, and superb play from Colosimo, Ames, Fagan-Foster and senior Joel Bruder to go undefeated throughout region play, earning Juan Diego its first region championship since 2006.
Playing in their final region game, Colosimo, Bruder and seniors Chris Ward and Zach Nickels had led the team all season.
“Cutting down the nets was when it hit me,” Colosimo said. “Being able to win our last region game, and in a dramatic fashion, too, was a great way to end the regular season.”
Due to the region championship, the Soaring Eagle were given a No. 1 seed for the state tournament and faced Grantsville in the opening round, cruising to a 67-47 win to advance in the tournament and face Southern Utah counterpart Desert Hills, the team that ultimately ended their season.
Colosimo, who is heading to Seattle Pacific University next year on a basketball scholarship, is leaving the school as the all-time leader in almost every statistical category there is.
“It is really cool, considering how involved I have been in this school my entire life,” Colosimo said. “But I would trade all of those stats for a state championship.”