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Midvale Journal

Above all, team ball: Hillcrest basketball wraps up

Mar 30, 2023 03:10PM ● By Julie Slama

Hillcrest High sophomore Sky Salazar-Bell passes out of Stansbury High defense to find an open Husky. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

Smart and athletic, the red-headed twins Cole and Zach Winegar recently took off their Hillcrest High basketball jerseys for the last time.

When asked, they each will say they are the better player, but together, they helped the Huskies set a 7-5 record for third place in region play.

Zach started playing ball at age 7, Cole joined in at 10.

“I ended up really liking it and sharing the court with Zach,” Cole said. “It’s been a really cool experience to grow as players and get better the whole season.”

The twins also have played through the years with a bunch of close friends, Zach said.

“We’ve played together with a lot of our closest friends on the court,” he said. “Our senior year, one of our buddies since third grade came back to play. Playing with these guys and being close to them definitely is a favorite part of the game.”

Those relationships translate well onto the floor as the Huskies play together.

“Coach (Brandon) Sluga emphasizes team basketball,” Cole said. “He really instills in everybody unselfish play and it’s been awesome to see how each individual person progresses and contributes to the team rather than just focuses on ourselves We’re really family more than we are teammates.”

Sluga said the Winegar brothers had a good year.

“If you ask them what kind of players they are, they’d say, ‘we’re shooters’ and they had some good nights shooting—absolutely,” Sluga said. “But what they’re better at, and as good as we could ask for, are being teammates. Since I’ve been coaching at Hillcrest, they’ve had nights where they played a lot and they had nights where they didn’t play a lot and it didn’t matter. They were always there for their teammates. They always care about their teammates and helping the team do the best they could. Those are the kids that you want on your team and as part of your program.”

The coach also was complimentary of his other seniors: point guard Maddux Albers lead the team in assists and points and became the all-time leading scorer in Hillcrest history since records have been kept starting in the 1990s; power forward Dai’Shaun Wilkerson-Buie averaged 11 boards and three blocks a game and “his defensive presence was a big deal the whole year;” and small forward Micah Madry, who has committed to play football at Snow College, improved and “finished each season playing his best basketball and helped us win some big games and just made our team more balanced.”

“I’m really proud of the progress we’ve made. The program has improved every year and we ended up with 50 wins overall for all four levels and all our youth teams were wining. We have some boys who are going to get to play college basketball so it’s exciting to know they have an opportunity to keep playing,” he said.

The twins wanted to contribute more to the team, so they hit the weight room to become “better defenders and better athletes,” Zach said, but the peer tutors also hit the books to maintain a 4.0 GPA while taking concurrent classes and earn as All-Academic State recognition—something that is stressed in Hillcrest’s basketball program.

“It’s a big emphasis for our kids to be in school, get good grades and stay eligible,” Sluga said. “School comes first, now and always. We want them to live well-balanced lives.”

Sluga already has a lot of his schedule for next season planned, just waiting to learn when and where the basketball tournament will be held as the Huskies move to 4A.

On the girls side, first-year head coach Alyssa Nielsen also has much of her schedule ready, with numerous players to return next season having played varsity minutes this year.

“This was a good growing year,” she said. “The girls all improved at all the levels with their basketball skills, but they learned to work hard to earn everything. They learned to work together as a team.”

It was the team that made it a fun experience for sophomore international student Malen Ursua.

“I was scared when I first got here,” she said. “I didn’t know anyone and at first, it was difficult because I didn’t know all the basketball words. But when I saw what we were doing, I understood. Since we practice every day and we had team dinners, we have really been able to bond. We encourage each other, and in Spain, that’s not common. I really like that every day before we go out to practice, I meet my teammates in the locker room, and we talk about our days. It’s very different from Spain where we play on competitive clubs against people our same age because we don’t have basketball at our schools.”

Ursua shared the point-guard position on varsity with other players, having her big night be the last home game against Uintah when she scored 12 points.

The team, which finished seventh in region play, had its first win early in the season, an overtime 46-45 win over Rockwell High in Eagle Mountain. Senior forward Abigail Slama-Catron, who as an International Baccalaureate student earned All-Academic State honors, contributed her season-high 12 points. Freshman guard Aniyah Buie contributed 10, senior center Kay Erekson and guard Jannette Manrique both added eight to pull off the victory.

“It was definitely a good win for the team. They picked up the energy and the pace,” she said.

With five seniors graduating, Nielsen already is looking forward to work with next year’s team.

“We have a lot of good, competitive athletes on all levels and I’m hoping to re-establish our youth program. I’m really excited to get the team back in the gym over the offseason, honing their skills,” she said, adding that in 4A the team will be playing some different schools. “This year, we had lots of fun moments. It’s a really good group of girls. Overall, they worked together, they worked hard and one thing I will say about these group of girls, from varsity to fresh, no matter what the scoreboard showed, they put in their best effort all the way through to the final moments—and that really says a lot about them.”