At the conclusion of the 2011 girls basketball season, everyone outside Springville likely took a moment to exhale at the mere prospect of never having to deal with former Red Devils star Lexi Eaton again.
The legend of Lexi isn’t confined to Utah, though. So when Hank Nawahine decided to uproot his family from San Diego, he did some research and ultimately decided his junior-to-be daughter, Malia, would benefit from playing under Red Devils coach Nancy Warner.
Devil of a season
Coach Nancy Warner didn’t attend her team’s summer basketball tour because of a pregnancy. She said it was frustrating to hear her assistant coaches rave about this new player whom she didn’t meet until the first day of school.
Malia Nawahine averaged over 18 points per game this season, made 27 3-pointers and scored 91 points in the recent 4A state tournament, where Springville made an improbable run to reach the title game.
Nawahine, a 5-foot-9 junior, played volleyball for Springville last fall and should be a contributor on the track team, where she lists the 300 hurdles as her favorite event.
"My dad did his research and knew Coach Warner was one of the best," said Malia Nawahine. "My parents knew about Lexi and knew she got a scholarship to BYU so we chose to come to school at Springville."
That 4A exhale now likely feels like a punch to the gut. Nawahine led Springville to an improbable run late in the season, only to see it end in a 62-47 loss to Timpanogos in the 4A championship game.
"After our graduation losses last year, I think it took our girls awhile to realize they were good and that we could beat good teams," said Warner. "Malia gave everyone an immediate boost with her willingness to do whatever it took to win, whether it’s rebounds, scoring or defending the other team’s top player."
Unlike Eaton, Nawahine and the rest of her teammates didn’t exactly crush the competition this season. After a Jan. 17 loss to Salem Hills, the Red Devils were 4-7 and looking at the playoffs as a distant possibility.
Nawahine points to a three-game stretch where Springville beat Mountain View in overtime, beat Maple Mountain and finished the run with a 70-58 win over Timpanogos.
"I think our coaches just kept pounding on us to believe that we could beat good teams," she said. "We worked hard, prepared for individual teams and came out with wins."
The Red Devils won seven of their last nine games just to secure a playoff spot, and watched as Nawahine elevated her game when it mattered most. The junior scored 28 in a 53-38 upset of top-ranked Cyprus, had 24 points and 14 boards in the win over Sky View, scored 21 and added six steals in the 61-59 win over Mountain Crest and contributed 18 points in the championship game.
"Malia is just an extremely tough competitor who doesn’t like to lose," said Warner. "She jumps out of the gym and definitely leaves her fingerprints all over the stat sheet."
That doesn’t-like-to-lose factor will be the motivation as Nawahine enters her senior season. As a freshman, she lost in the quarterfinals of the CIF tournament, and lost again in the championship game her sophomore year.
"It’s kind of frustrating, but I love the girls here in Springville, and I am so pumped to have a good summer and get ready for next year," she said.
For the 4A field that is holding its breath until Nawahine graduates: She has an older sister, Valerie, who walked on at Brigham Young University this year, and five more siblings yet to enter high school.
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