Three top recruits anchoring nationally ranked Fremont girls’ basketball team

The Silverwolves start their 6A state tournament run Thursday against Kearns.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Fremont girls basketball begins their practice on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021, ranked in the top 15 program in the country, per MaxPreps, and led by 3 highly recruited girls.

Fremont High’s three best players on its girls’ basketball team aren’t hard to miss. Each of them are at least 6-foot-3, after all.

But what’s even more evident about senior Emma Calvert, junior Timea Gardiner and sophomore Maggie Mendelson is their supreme talent. The towering trio consists of some of the most highly recruited girls in the country, and has led the Silverwolves to a 22-0 record this season — including a No. 15 ranking in the MaxPreps Top 25.

“That’s a lot of the reason why we’re really good,” Fremont coach Lisa Dalebout said of the three girls.

Calvert committed to play basketball at BYU some time ago, and is listed as a four-star recruit and 74th among the class of 2021 by ESPN. Her two teammates, on the other hand, are currently uncommitted.

Gardiner is considered a five-star recruit, and ESPN ranks her No. 4 among girls in the class of 2022. She’s narrowed down her college choices to three Pac-12 programs: Oregon State, Stanford and UCLA.

ESPN puts Mendelson, the youngest of the three, as a four-star recruit and No. 21 among the class of 2023. But she has also gotten plenty of attention from schools to play volleyball. She said that right now, she’s thinking she’ll play both sports in college.

Calvert leads the Silverwolves in scoring, averaging 15.3 points and adding 7.3 rebounds per game. Mendelson is right behind her at 14.7 points per game and a team-leading 8.3 rebounds, while Gardiner puts up 13.5 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. Those statistics, however, are not up to date.

While each member of the trio has the size that usually relegates a player to working exclusively in the paint, their versatility allows for a diversified attack.

“They share the ball,” Dalebout said. “We don’t really have this pound-it-in-the-post mentality, though we can if we need to. We try to stay balanced. So if somebody takes something away, we’ll have other weapons.”

Mendelson, who stands at 6-foot-6, serves as the main anchor in the middle for Fremont. Her rebounding and blocked shots numbers are indicative of that. Calvert is the 6-foot-4 “stretch 4” — basketball jargon for a shooter who is taller than the average shooter — and is shooting close to 40% from the 3-point line this season. Gardiner, the best ball handler of the three, plays on the wing and averages the second-most assists on the team.

Additionally, the team has certain sets that allow those three players to exchange spots on the floor.

“It makes it really hard on whoever’s playing against us to guard our team because we have really good shooters and really good post players,” Calvert said.

Aside from the three, the Silverwolves have plenty of complimentary pieces, including senior point guard Halle Duft, senior Averee Porter, junior Mia Austin and senior Kallin Freestone. Dalebout said her players all have different, strong personalities, but they mesh well together.

The team also works well together due the girls’ close off-the-court relationships and how their collective intelligence translates to the basketball court.

“It definitely helps us understand the game and understand what we need to do to push ourselves to be better,” Mendelson said. “And I think being smart really helps us with our relationships because we recognize what people need and it really helps with our communication and understanding other people.”

The Silverwolves won the 6A title in 2018, but lost to Bingham in the semifinal and final game over the next two respective seasons. Losing to its postseason rival is still on the minds of Fremont as it prepares to embark on its state title journey Thursday against Kearns.

“We’ve definitely been more motivated by it than anything,” Mendelson said. “Everybody is just hungry and I think that’s going to really keep pushing us through this tournament.”

Bingham is on the same side of the 6A bracket as Fremont this year, so it’s possible the two meet in the semifinals. The Silverwolves, however, just want to win — regardless of opponent.

“If we match up against them, we match up against them,” Gardiner said of the Miners. “But our main focus is ourselves and just winning this championship. We’re not really focused on the opponent.”

But the Silverwolves will be at a disadvantage this year. Gardiner won’t play in the state tournament after recently suffering a knee injury that required surgery. The team will have to adjust without one of its most impactful players — one that won a gold medal with Team USA in the 2019 FIBA Americas U16 tournament.

But Fremont still feels confident that the team as a whole has enough talent, firepower, experience and cohesiveness to reach its goal of a 6A title.

“I think we are as ready as we can be to win this thing,” Calvert said.