Look for excitement as basketball girls gear up for games
“Excitement” is the term that every head girls’ basketball coach in Sanpete County used when talking about their team for the upcoming season. Despite an offseason of adversity, Sanpete’s girls’ hoops teams are ready to compete.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Utah High School Activities Association delayed the start of the winter season from Nov. 18 to Dec. 3, and nine total games were erased from the early schedule for the county’s four squads.
This season looks to carry a little bit of everything for fans, from a program surging to title contention to another picking up the pieces.
Here’s a look at every girls’ hoops team in Sanpete for the 2020-21 season.
Manti High Lady Templars
The Lady Templars went into last season with the motto, “Rise Up,” and, goodness, did they do just that.
Manti girls’ basketball had its best season of the decade, posting a 16-7 overall record and advancing to the quarterfinals of the 3A state tournament, all with just three seniors in the lineup, none of whom led in any statistical categories for the team.
With so many players returning, a promising group of underclassmen and a wealth of forward momentum in the program, head coach Brennon Schweikart gave the team a new motto for 2020: “Believe.”
“We got there,” Schweikart said about Manti’s first time winning a playoff game since 2015. “Let’s not be satisfied just getting there. Let’s go do something.”
Manti’s foray into the playoff field ended rather unceremoniously with a blowout loss to South Sevier, followed by another blowout in a consolation bracket game against Carbon, highlighting work to be done for the Lady Templars 2020-2021 season.
The Lady Templars return six seniors and several experienced juniors to this year’s lineup. Schweikart tabbed senior Kassidy Alder as the starting point guard in a skilled group of guards including junior Sharlie Alder and senior Allie Bridges. Senior Katie Larsen, last year’s leading scorer, returns at the forward spot.
Manti’s defense was arguably the best in 3A last year, allowing merely 37.2 points per game, but the offense needed improvement. Larsen led the team with only 8 points per game. The team will look to change that with an older and well-trained senior class.
In addition, Schweikart reported that Kassidy Alder’s improvement was so dramatic that it’s drawing the attention of college recruiters. Manti’s season scoring average of 46 points per game is due for an upgrade.
Games at home against San Juan and South Summit were scrapped by the pandemic, but the Lady Templars got a tough test for their first game last week against Beaver and lost, 42-36. Kassidy Alder led with 11 points, while Chidester put in 10 more.
Manti’s home opener was against 4A Canyon View last Tuesday. The Lady Templars will travel to face Providence Hall on Thursday and return home to host San Juan this Saturday. They will then host North Sanpete next Tuesday.
North Sanpete Lady Hawks
For North Sanpete girls’ hoops, it almost seems like “take number three” on their rebuilding process.
The Lady Hawks have been down on their luck for some time under the direction of head coach Taylor Christensen, and although the participation numbers improved this year from 14 up to 19, the coach says COVID-19 could be standing ready to wreck things for North Sanpete at any time.
“I have seen a lot of improvement from a lot of my girls,” Christensen said. “We will see how COVID affects the season. With another low number this year, quarantines may be something that will affect our play.”
Provided the pandemic doesn’t damage the season for the Lady Hawks too severely, there is more hope in the gym than in the recent few years as Christensen’s squad only graduated one senior and returns nearly their entire team from last year.
“There’s always progress when you only lose one senior,” Christensen said. “We have all of our starters but one returning. We also have a really good freshman class. With one year of varsity experience under our belt we will be a year better than last. I can already see the experience helping my kids.”
North Sanpete’s 3-point leader, senior Eryn Briggs, looks to lead the Lady Hawks, who will be exceptionally young again with only one other senior, Melissa Murillo, on the roster. A plethora of underclassmen will fill in the blanks on the depth after four of five starters return to the gym.
North Sanpete’s first two games, at American Heritage and at Altamont, were cancelled. The Lady Hawks home opener against Gunnison Valley last Thursday ended in a 34-27 loss. Despite the loss, optimism could be found in Briggs tying with a fellow sophomore, Tylee Henrie, for nine points each. Four sophomores scored for the Lady Hawks in the contest.
North Sanpete was expectedly run out of the gym against a top-tier Judge Memorial team last Saturday, 79-33. Henrie led with 12 points, while Briggs chipped in 11.
The Lady Hawks traveled to Carbon last Tuesday. They will be on the road against Manti next Tuesday.
Gunnison Valley Lady Bulldogs
GUNNISON—Just as Gunnison girls’ basketball was trending in the right direction, the program has now been faced with starting fresh.
The Lady Bulldogs looked solidly competitive last season, posting double-digit wins for the second consecutive year with a 10-13 overall season. They also won a playoff game for the first time since 2014 with a 72-27 drubbing of Real Salt Lake Academy before falling out in the second round.
The tough part is that this happened with four starting seniors playing, and to dig the hole even deeper, promising junior Kennedi Knudsen elected before the start of the season not to return either, committing to club volleyball instead. Therefore, only three seniors are expected on the roster.
Now head coach Melissa Sorensen is tasked with replacing the entire starting lineup. On a positive note, the stress doesn’t seem to weigh too much on the new crop of players.
“They work well together,” Sorensen said. “This group of girls just enjoy playing. Regardless of anything else that’s going on, they just enjoy it, which is always nice.”
Senior Naomi Willden and junior Raven Pickett, Sorensen said, have been the vocal leaders in practice and figure to lead the team into a season where the Lady Bulldogs will test what they’re really made of.
Gunnison’s first two games against American Heritage and American Leadership were cancelled. They won their season opener against North Sanpete, 34-27, as sophomore Rilee Dyreng led all scorers with 14 points.
Sorensen said it was great to finally play after the season was postponed. The game gave the coaching staff a chance
to evaluate where to focus on improving, she said, and that “it is always nice to start the season with a win to gain some confidence.”
They played Freedom Prep Academy last Tuesday and will host American Leadership Academy this Saturday.
Wasatch Academy Lady Tigers
Wasatch Academy girls’ basketball has been trying to burn the proverbial candle at both ends for a few years now.
On one hand, the Lady Tigers have surged their way into championship contention every year on the efforts of two or three skilled and college-ready players. On the other, other players on the roster are just breaking into the sport and have been working on the basic fundamentals.
So it’s been that Wasatch Academy has run unchecked through regions full of fellow private and charter schools in the same boat of learning basketball fundamentals. They haven’t lost a region game in three years and went 9-1 in region play in 2016.
Simultaneously, the Lady Tigers have yet to get past the semifinals of the 2A state tournament. Last year was no different with their 19-win season meeting its end in a 50-34 loss against Millard, followed by a loss to Kanab to finish fourth in state. Seniors Debora Reis and Duda Raimondo were double- and triple-teamed nearly all game long, stuffing the entire function of the Tiger offense.
“I go into every game expecting to win, and I know the team buys into that philosophy,” head coach Travis Madsen said.
Returning this year is senior Nataly Dunka, who is signed to play Division I college basketball in 2021 at University of the Pacific. Dunka led the team in scoring last season with 16.83 points per game and 45 made 3-pointers.
Seniors Olivia Jessee and Mattea Wade will back her up as skilled and experienced starters.
Wasatch Academy had some intriguing games cancelled by the pandemic, namely their season opener at Freedom Prep, a high-profile matchup against 5A East High, and a game against rival Layton Christian.
Instead, the Lady Tigers began their season at the Shanon Johnson Tournament in Vernal last weekend. It was a rocky start, to say the least.
Wasatch Academy went 0-3 at the tournament to start their season, losing to Pine View, 66-25, San Juan, 51-42, and Carbon, 45-28. Dunka led in scoring in each game, including a 27-point outing against San Juan.
The Lady Tigers traveled to face Layton Christian last Monday and hosted Millard last Tuesday. They will be on the road to face American Heritage this Thursday and have rescheduled their game with East to next Monday at home. They will also host North Sevier next Tuesday.