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Essence Booker, Kayla Harris cement Spring Valley hoops legacy

Spring Valley’s girls basketball team was lost, mired in futility and searching for answers.

Following their first and only playoff appearance in 2006, the Grizzlies descended into obscurity overnight, winning a total of 26 games the next eight seasons under four head coaches.

Then came Essence Booker and Kayla Harris.

And a 30-1 record.

And a state title.

“They were the big men on campus as freshmen,” Spring Valley coach Billy Hemberger said.

Not much has changed, as the now-senior duo — and future Division I athletes — look to cement their legacy this season playing on a team that’s expected to finish atop the Sunset Region.

“I just want everyone to know that we’re coming this year — hard,” said Booker, who committed to UNR in October. “It’s our last year, so we’re just fearless. We have nothing to lose.”

Nothing to lose since the legacy Booker and Harris have created will not be tarnished by this season’s outcome.

Three playoff appearances, two league championships, 77 wins and one state title. All with one year to go.

“We’re always going to have that bond,” said Harris, who’s uncommitted but receiving interest from Jacksonville State, Southern Utah and UNLV. “There’s no one going to come in between us.”

A far cry from when Booker (Garside) and Harris (Hyde Park) were foes on the court in middle school. But that changed when they decided to team up on Vegas Thunder during their seventh grade AAU summer.

The pair stayed in touch in eighth grade, often going to movies or hanging with each other’s family, while dominating the competition at their respective schools. The beneficiary soon became Spring Valley, which won just one game during that 2013-14 season.

Booker and Harris rejected opportunities to play at Centennial and Bishop Gorman before arriving on the Grizzlies’ campus in the fall of 2014.

“My ultimate goal is to not be a follower,” Booker said. “I didn’t want to go to Centennial. I didn’t want to go to Gorman. I wanted to go to a school where I could change it around and build something and let other girls know, ‘Those two schools aren’t the only schools you can play for.’”

Booker (15 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.8 assists), a three-time all-state selection, is one of the state’s top returning perimeter players, and Harris (9.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 4.2 apg), a two-time all-state honoree, is the formidable inside presence.

Together, they will be looking to add the “cherry on top” of their careers — another state title.

The Grizzlies appear to be on a collision course this season with three-time defending state champion Centennial in the Sunset Region. Whether or not they can dethrone the nationally ranked Bulldogs is another matter.

But Hemberger credited Booker and Harris for always seeing the “bigger picture.”

Hemberger noted, outside of basketball, they are attentive in class and have become leaders at the school. What really sets them apart, though, is their willingness to mentor the Grizzlies’ younger players.

They don’t want the school falling back into obscurity or another one-win season.

“They helped make Spring Valley relevant,” Hemberger said. “And they really care about, ‘What is this going to look like next year?’”

Contact reporter Ashton Ferguson at aferguson@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0430. Follow @af_ferguson on Twitter.

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