When she first got on the job, Copper Hills coach Jentry Johnson was ready to get rid of the cloud that had been hanging over Copper Hills.
She observed that there was an attitude around the program in part created by other teams, but one that many of the school's own players had accepted over the years: Copper Hills was a second-rate squad.
After a runner-up finish this year in the Class 5A tournament, that cloud has dissipated and a new optimism has formed in its wake.
"To be frank, we busted our butts this year," Johnson says. "I told my girls that rankings didn't matter just go out and play ball. And I honestly think this season means Copper Hills is on its way."
Johnson played a major role in that shift in only her first year as coach, leading a cultural overhaul that included longer, more focused practices and confidence-building for the Grizzlies. Traditionally left in the dust behind more high-profile programs, Copper Hills had its best-ever finish at the state tournament this year, won the Region 3 title and was the surprise of the season.
It was passion that made the difference. Johnson was as into the game as any of her players. Once during the tournament, she dove to the ground as she screamed for a baserunner to slide into second.
"She's just a great motivator, and she gave us the will to win," senior Amanda Cook says. "During practice, she wouldn't let us leave until we finished what we needed to get done. She'd tell us to stick together together we're better."
The Grizzlies did stick together, toppling consensus top-two teams Weber and Bingham on the way to the finals. Beating the Miners was especially meaningful the current crop of players had never done it.
Although the Warriors later came back out of the one-loss bracket to win it all, the Grizzlies firmly established themselves as a power in 5A softball. Even though the team graduates a significant number of seniors, a large group of freshmen should anchor the program for years to come.
"Now that we're able to step back and see the whole picture, I am so dang proud of my team this year," Johnson says. "They accomplished so many things. It was the ride of a lifetime."