OGDEN — Throughout her time with the Salt Lakers basketball club, St. Joseph Catholic High senior Virginia Tomon had heard a story from her coach, Mishon Johnson, about a particular girl who played for the club.
That girl had essentially attracted college coaches’ attention for a sequence in a game that defined “hustle and effort.” That girl eventually played college basketball.
It was a story Johnson told so much that the player was essentially revered by every girl who heard it.
So Tomon was sitting with a teammate at a club tournament in San Diego 5-6 years ago when they spotted the girl they’d heard so much about.
Tomon mildly freaked out, went and introduced herself and took a picture with the girl, who was swarmed by adoring kids.
As the Jayhawks head into their new season, Tomon still has the picture. It shows a kid with a huge smile posing with a college basketball player who might as well have been Tomon’s idol.
In a heavy dose of irony and interconnected cosmic realities, the woman in the picture is now Tomon’s coach, the new girls basketball coach at St. Joseph.
“I remember it, because I went to a good Division II school and I was in a very good conference, but for this group of little kids I felt like a celebrity for these kids to come up and go, ‘Oh my God, you’re Kelsey Henry,’ and I’m like ‘Ohhh yeah, I am! What’s up?’” Kelsey Henry said.
“Isn’t that crazy?”
Henry and Tomon are teaming up for Tomon’s senior season, which comes on the back of one of the most prolific and under-the-radar junior campaigns in the state.
Division-I basketball recruits don’t typically walk the halls at St. Joseph, where the basketball court is so squeezed into Fr. Neal Herrlich Gymnasium that the scorer’s table barely fits behind the sideline and anyone sitting there is pushed against the wall.
But this is where the entryway’s trophy cabinet is stuffed with enough hardware to make a fire marshal concerned, and where a banner hangs commemorating the school’s placement on the Washington Post’s 2014 rankings of the top private schools in the country.
Where Tomon averaged 16.7 points and 12.1 rebounds per game last season.
“I really just focus on rebounding and getting any rebound I can. Any rebound,” Tomon said.
Her rebounding prowess comes from playing in the driveway with her two older sisters, who also know a little bit about basketball.
Two of the trophies in the entryway are the back-to-back girls basketball 1A state championships that her oldest sister, Elizabeth, helped win in 2012 and 2013.
Elizabeth just finished her senior year at Colorado School of Mines, where she played all 117 games in four years and started the final 61 for the women’s basketball team.
A couple more of those trophies are for track and field accomplishments, including 2017 when Tomon’s sister, Kathleen, broke her own 1A state record for the discus at 133-8.75, a record that still stands. Kathleen played four years of basketball for the Jayhawks and know throws on the Colorado Mines track team.
“During Christmas we always play one-on-one against each other, so it’s pretty awesome to get a rebound against one of them. But I definitely brag to them, I’m like ‘Yeah so I had 20 rebounds, how many did you have?’” Virginia Tomon said.
“Don’t get me wrong, we love each other. But...”
There is a lot of smack talk. They have a group text message that veers into smack talk one way or another and the board game Settlers of Catan is banned in the house, she said.
But through that, Viriginia Tomon found her rebounding groove.
“A lot of had to do with how I would go out and rebound for my sisters and then pass it back,” she said. “I practiced a lot with my dad, too, getting the positioning and footwork and getting low enough.”
Henry also knows a little bit about rebounding. Henry averaged 7.9 boards her senior year at Morgan High, then went to Division II Western Oregon where her college career included an exhibition game at Weber State where she scored 15 points on 6 of 7 shooting in 2015.
Henry teaches at St. Joseph and, at 24 years old, is one of the youngest varsity basketball head coaches in the state — if not the youngest.
“Me and (Virginia) have really similar personalities. We’re both very, very passionate about the game, I love working with her because she has just as much passion and fire as I do,” Henry said.
“We’re both very loud people.”
There were games last season where Virginia Tomon was by far the Jayhawks’ leading scorer and rebounder. Stats don’t matter too much to her, but it’s hard to ignore it when, for instance, St. Joseph holds higher-classification Ben Lomond to 25 points, Tomon scores 18 and the Jayhawks win by 14.
Along with being one of the Jayhawks’ best volleyball players this season, she swims laps a lot. And she power lifted this summer.
The funny thing is, basketball isn’t even her best sport. She’s actually headed to Colorado State-Pueblo to throw shot put and discus.
Virginia Tomon won the 2A state track and field title in the discus (116-08.75) and also took second in the shot put. The possibility of playing basketball in college is still on the table (sometimes D-II schools will let kids be multi-sport athletes for a short period of time).
But for now, the ball’s bouncing off the backboard and she has a rebound to grab.