Current and former students dive inside two high-pressure Utah high schools

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Utah Valley University sophomore Conner Toolson poses at his locker in the Wolverines’ basketball locker room. Toolson played on Lone Peak High School’s nationally ranked team. (Ari Davis)

Utah Valley University sophomore guard Conner Toolson’s high school basketball experience defied the norm.

Toolson played at northern Utah County’s Lone Peak High School on the team that churned out three state championships in a row from 2011-13, won the 2012-13 MaxPreps national championship and supplied Brigham Young University with more than half of its starting lineup through players Nick Emery, Eric Mika and TJ Haws.

For starters, Toolson said he had a more privileged basketball career than most due to the generosity of his coach. Quincy Lewis, now BYU’s assistant men’s basketball coach, funded extra travel for the unstoppable team.

With this privilege came extra pressure, Toolson said.

“[Lewis] wasn’t casual about basketball. Now he’s a college basketball coach, and he kind of treated us like we were a college team,” Toolson said.

Toolson said some of the stories he heard from his friends at other schools baffled him — what they were allowed to do at practice or even the fact that they could get away with showing up late.

Then there was the limelight.

“I feel like there was a lot of pressure because so much of the school was focused on the basketball team,” Toolson said. “We had this spotlight on us at all times, and so basically everything we did, people would notice.”

Toolson’s wife and fellow Lone Peak alumnus MaKenna Thomson Toolson said from her view, the student body depended on the basketball team for the school’s impressive reputation.

“‘Oh, I go to Lone Peak.’ I loved saying that cause we were good at a lot of stuff,” MaKenna said. “People that talked to me knew Lone Peak for their basketball.”

Lewis also set a high bar for the team when it came to setting an example in character:

Back in Provo, Timpview High School’s Wyatt Collins, a senior in the heat of college admissions season, can speak to the similarly colossal pressure at his school — this time, pressure to get in to BYU.

Collins comes from a family of Cougar fans. Both of his parents attended school at BYU, his mom works at the university part-time, his house is right up the street from the university and his family has both football and basketball season tickets.

Collins described a school culture where everyone in the tight-knit senior class applies to BYU and opening admissions letters is a social experience. The night admissions decisions went out for his class, he joined in on a big group video chat on an app called Houseparty to hear everyone’s results.

According to Collins, “there’s definitely more pressure at Timpview” than at other Utah high schools to attend BYU.

He said students want to stay in Provo, stay close to their families, stick around the LDS culture and go to a top-notch school, but those aren’t the main factors playing into Timpview students’ college preferences.

“It’s more about the fun times you’re going to have with your friends at BYU,” Collins said. “There’s tons of pressure because everyone’s trying to go there and we’re still trying to create the same vibe that we have.”

That made it sting a little when Collins didn’t get in to BYU—Provo or BYU—Hawaii. However, Collins doesn’t consider himself one of the die-hard BYU-bounds. From his position in student government, he tries to be an example of optimism for the other students who didn’t receive the letter they wanted.

“I would say [for] the majority of people who don’t get in and really want to get in, it puts a damper on their confidence, honestly. And I don’t think it should be like that at all,” Collins said. “I try and help other people kind of cope with the status of not getting in to BYU, so it almost helps me, too.”