A mainstay on the hardwood for the Mountain View Lady Buffalos the past three seasons will continue her playing career at the collegiate level next season.
Haily Stephens — a back-to-back All-State selection and a three-year starter for head coach Jessica Moretti — has signed to play basketball at Western Wyoming Community College for head coach Mike Swenson.
“I love the game of basketball, and [coach Swenson] and I had been talking for a while,” Stephens explained. “I had been keeping in touch with them, and he watched me play at regionals. I’m excited that I get to have a next chapter in my basketball career, playing at a new level.”
Stephens led the Lady Buffs to a 3A West Regional Championship this past season, where she caught the eye of the WWCC coaching staff — the senior averaged 14.5 points and 4.8 rebounds per game during the course of the season.
“Haily reached out to let us know she was interested, so we went through her stats from the past couple of seasons,” Swenson said. “When the Regional tournament came up, I got a chance to watch online — I was just so impressed with her game.”
The number one seed out of the west heading into the 3A State Basketball Tournament, Mountain View saw their hopes for a state title dashed when the tournament was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was really, really hard at first,” Stephens said upon learning of the cancellation. “When our coach got the call saying that they were canceling state, our whole team was really hurt. But on the other hand, we were able to be together as a team on the road home, and eat together once more as a team. I was very thankful for that, just being with my team at that time.”
Stephens will now go from a team in the hunt for a state title to one in the midst of a rebuild — the Lady Mustangs were 3-26 last season, though head coach Mike Swenson said his was a team decimated by injuries. Despite the pandemic, he’s had a solid recruiting season, and is excited to add Stephens to the freshman mix. Watching Stephens during the regional tournament in March, Swenson said he was impressed with the senior’s poise.
“The one key thing with Haily that convinced me that I needed this young lady on my team was the way she kept her composure,” he said. “Game in and game out, she might struggle a couple of quarters here and there — but she kept playing hard. She didn’t try to do things outside of what she’s capable of doing. She took things as they came to her — offensively, defensively, she did it all.”
For her part, coach Moretti said the Lady Mustangs are getting a playmaker who works hard and matured into an excellent leader.
“She [Stephens] doesn’t back down,” Moretti said. “One thing I was really proud of her for this year as a senior, she really stepped up and showed some great leadership. She also showed a lot of great defense — she’s always been great offensively, but this year I started putting her on whoever we needed to shut down.”
Stephens’ defensive prowess didn’t go unnoticed by Swenson, who said that also factored into his decision to recruit her.
“You look at her [Stephens’] offense, and you see she has the capability to score — she has a scorer’s mentality,” he said. “But at this level, she’s going to have to guard a two guard who is just as tall as her, but maybe 10 time faster — the guards at this level are cat-quick. I looked to see what she brings to the table defensively, and she has the tools to be a solid defender.”
Stephens began playing basketball in the fifth grade in Manila, Utah, playing against seventh and eighth graders.
“I feel like playing the older kids made me better,” she said.
A three-year starter at Mountain View, Stephens said she loved the culture of the Lady Buffs program.
“Everybody loved our team — we were just a fun team to be around,” she explained. “We’d always be the ones to smile after a loss, to come together as one. That’s what I loved about my team.”
Moretti said she knew early on that she had a player in Stephens who was playing at a different level than most kids her age.
“I started Haily her sophomore year, and even as a sophomore, she was so controlled,” she said. “She had that poise about her. The growth that has happened over the years has made it even more so. Watching her take on that leadership role and gain more confidence has been awesome to watch.”
As Stephens’ confidence continued to grow, so too did her skill set — Moretti said by the time her senior season started, Sthephens had blossomed into a player who could do it all.
“She [Stephens] handles the ball well, she elevates well — she’s a playmaker, she makes things happen,” Moretti said. “She can play inside, she can play outside. She’s not afraid to get in there with the bigs. She’s just a great all-around player.”
Despite the pandemic, Stephens said she’s getting to know her new teammates at WWCC, albeit through social media and other online platforms, as is the new norm.
“I’ve had a few Zoom meetings with my new teammates lately, and all of them seem pretty nice — they’re all super funny,” she said. “Coach Mike Swenson seems great, and I’m just really excited to play with all of them — they all seem like they will be great teammates.”
On the court, Swenson said Stephens’ versatility will work well within his system, especially with the ball in her hands.
“With my offensive system and the things that we do — the amount of movement that we have in my motion offense — it allows kids to play to their strengths,” he explained. “If Haily wants to be a shooter, she’ll have the opportunity to do that. If she wants to try to get to the cup, she’ll have opportunities to do that, as well. I’m looking at her as more of a two guard, someone who can bring it up and come off of screens to shoot.”
Asked what she’ll remember most about her high school career, Stephens said the games against Bridger Valley rival Lyman definitely stand out. The two teams squared off three times last season, with Mountain View winning two by a combined three points; that included a 40-39 win in the 3A West title game.
“The games against Lyman are always the most intense,” she said. “They’re also the funnest games I’ve ever been a part of. Honestly, we had no thought in our minds that we were going to be regional champions — we were just working to make it to state. It was awesome to end with a trophy and a win over Lyman.”
As for what she’ll miss when it comes to her team, Stephens said the answer is simple.
“I’m gonna miss how we always goofed around with each other — I’m going to miss the smiles,” she said. “We’d listen to music together every day during warm-ups. But I think what I’m going to miss most are their smiles, and the love they showed me. It was a great team to be a part of.”