Courtney Hayes wasn’t the top scorer in the state.
Or the top rebounder. Or the leader in assists or steals or blocked shots.
But given the task of starting a girls basketball team tomorrow and picking one player to be that team’s foundation, she might be the most popular choice.
The 5-foot-5-inch senior did a whole lot of everything in leading Centennial’s girls squad to the Class 4A state title and earning the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s state player of the year award.
Hayes averaged 11 points per game and added six rebounds, five steals and four assists for a team that had incredible balance. Centennial had five players average at least 10 points.
“When you have a team that is so balanced, it’s hard to get your averages up,” Centennial coach Karen Weitz said. “If Courtney had had bigger numbers, we might not have won as often. She did what she needed to do.”
And it showed most in the state championship game against Liberty.
With her team trailing by five points with a little more than two minutes to go in regulation, Hayes took over, sparking a game-tying 8-3 run to force overtime.
Her steal and layup started the run, and her two free throws with 30 seconds left forced overtime in a game the Bulldogs eventually won, 71-65.
“People tell me championship games are still a little different,” Weitz said. “Courtney realized that. She saw what needed to be done and basically said, ‘I’m not waiting for anyone else to do it. I’m stepping up.’ ”
Hayes’ value to the Bulldogs went far beyond any numbers on a scoreboard or stat sheet.
She was a pest on defense, anticipating passes, forcing opponents into turnovers and disrupting offenses.
“We always tease her about it. We call her the Tasmanian Devil,” Weitz said. “One minute she’s in one place, and the next minute she’s in another and you don’t know how she got there.”
On a team that had only two seniors and was loaded with young talent, Hayes’ leadership — both on the floor and in team huddles — was a key.
“She was the one who after I got done talking was always encouraging everyone,” Weitz said. “In the title game, every timeout, she was telling everyone, ‘You can do this. We’ve got it.’ ”
Hayes missed 12 games in the middle of the season with a knee injury. She wasn’t at 100 percent when she returned but was clearly at her best in the games that mattered most at the end of the season, averaging nearly 13 points in the Bulldogs’ five postseason games.
“You have to give her credit for working on her own game and improving,” Weitz said. “She put in the time. She really is a dedicated person and she’s has sacrificed a lot for the game of basketball.”