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Warriors use an injury to become a better team

Feb 01, 2018 03:03AM ● Published by Greg James

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A team without its superstar player can fold away into disaster or come together and overcome its trials.

The Taylorsville High School girls basketball team has gone a stretch of games this season without Morgan Toluono, a Utah State University Eastern signee. A shoulder injury forced her to miss seven of the team’s first nine games. Despite missing a key player, her teammates have worked together to overcome its adversity.

“Our record is not great. We had a huge hit without having Morgan,” Warriors head coach Jody Lee said. “While it hurt our record, it was really good for the other kids to get put into situations that they might not have. They have had a chance to learn.” 

In its third win of the season over defending 5A champs Skyline, Taylorsville guards played with the newfound confidence. With less than 15 seconds remaining in a tie game, the Warriors inbounded the ball. Junior Tivya Passey caught the pass at full speed and headed down the court. She looked up just in time to see her teammate, Jayah Bean, breaking ahead. Her precise pass led to a layup and foul. Bean hit the free throw to ice the victory, 34-31.

Toluono scored 12 points in the victory, but she fouled out with one minute left in the game. Lee said she is a leader on the court.

“Having Morgan around gives us energy, and we have a great interior post game with Finau (Tonga),” she said. “I feel like we have taken a step up. We are going to keep working and get better.”

The Warriors opened region play with a 63-54 loss to Herriman. They fell behind by 10 points in the first quarter and could never recover. 

Lee said Toluono doesn’t just have talent; she’s dedicated and works hard.

“Morgan pushes herself relentlessly on her own,” Lee said. “I don’t think she has anything to prove. She could have just come and said, ‘I need to rest,’ but she is itching to get out there and play. She dives on the floor to get balls. The passion she has is what she brings, and it is night-and-day difference when she is not on the floor.”

Toluono has averaged 9.7 points per game in her short time so far this season. Tonga has picked up the scoring by averaging 13.2 points per game; Passey and Bean score three points per game each.

“It is funny—I just looked at her (Passey) and told her she had played the best game I had seen her play (after Skyline win),” Lee said. “She looked like she belonged on the team. Hopefully, we just keep clicking together and realize we all have something to contribute.”

At 6-foot-2, Tonga leads the team in rebounding by averaging 9.1 boards per game. 

“I have been coaching for 11 years and have never had a player like her (Tonga),” Lee said. “She is still only a junior. You can’t buy a player that size. Not only is she big, but she is very agile. She rebounds, and to have her on the floor helps us on the inside. Every time we play this year it is going to be a battle. We think about each game one at a time. We need to build off today.” 

The Warriors compete in Region 3 against Herriman, Riverton, West Jordan and Copper Hills. The girls state tournament is scheduled for Feb. 20–24 at Salt Lake Community College.

“It is unbelievable; it is obvious we want to win,” Toluono said. “When I got injured, I thought ‘this is my senior year,’ and I was disappointed. But when I came back, I knew I needed to play my hardest. Any moment it can be taken away from you. This is my last year, and I want to play my heart out.” 

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