Old and news girls basketball coaches ready teams to surpass last year’s heights
By Matt Harris
Four teams. Three regions. Fifty-seven losses last year. For every prep girls basketball team in Sanpete County, the 2018-19 season is a chance for redemption.
Gunnison fields one of its most experienced teams in recent years. Manti and North Sanpete have brought in new coaches from the collegiate ranks to stimulate their programs. It might be difficult for Wasatch Academy to repeat their stellar season last year as they are a young group in the process of rebuilding. But they will try.
While the season started last week for these four teams, here’s a preview of what’s ahead.
The Lady Bulldogs look primed for one of their best years of the decade, and it all comes down to experience.
To do it, they’ll need to conquer their “Achilles Heel” in 2017-18: Region play.
“We play in the toughest region in 2A,” head coach Melissa Sorensen said. “Each game is a battle and teams must play extremely well to win. Four of the top five ranked teams come from our region. We will go out and play tough each game and work on the aspects of the game we can control.”
Gunnison started last season 3-0 before succumbing to five straight losses and only winning four more the rest of the way. They missed the 2A playoffs, largely due the dominance of Region 18.
The Lady Bulldogs get leadership from senior Jaida King, who led the team in scoring since her sophomore year, alongside Paige King and Taryn Thompson. But the impact can come from anyone, as Gunnison is “extremely deep this year,” Sorensen said, “with the ability to play 10-11 girls. We will rely on everyone to contribute.”
The Bulldogs began their season in the win column last week with a 48-36 victory over Providence Hall. They continue this week by playing their first road game against Rockwell on Thursday at 6 p.m.
When Brennon Schweikart started his new job at Manti last May, it even took some for principal George Henrie to get his name right.
It may not take much longer for everyone else.
Schweikart begins his first year at the helm of a basketball program this year after playing the role of assistant in the collegiate ranks for several years. And it seems he already has the culture of the Templars trending in the right direction.
They even sport a new, half-sarcastic motto, “Go ahead…tell me what I can’t do.”
“The optimism starts with a belief in yourself,” Shweikart said. “Our team had to learn very early about my own personal philosophy, and it starts with positivity.”
Schweikart’s not the only fresh look for Manti this season. The Lady Templars field three sophomores and two juniors for their starting lineup. Manti’s two seniors, Ashton Wood and Anna Allred, come off the bench. Schweikart has touted the court vision of sophomore Kassidy Alder as beyond anything he has seen in a 15-year old player, while sophomore Allie Bridges is already a team captain.
“With those five, our starters,” Schweikart said, “they have gelled together in a way that no matter who put in that group off the bench, we’re still in stride.”
The Lady Templars showed up in a dominant 60-23 win over American Leadership Academy last Tuesday. They continue their season against South Summit in the Price Tournament on Friday and against Carbon in the Carbon Challenge on Saturday afternoon before returning home next Tuesday to take on 4A Payson.
Sometimes, no expectations are the best expectations.
After the bottom fell out of the North Sanpete girls hoops season last year, the program made a change at the top. The Lady Hawks saw the departure of head coach Randi Griffith after five seasons. The newest successor to the head spot for girls hoops is 23-year-old Taylor Christensen, a former North Sanpete star.
Christensen comes in having just finished her playing career at Utah Valley University, where she averaged 14 points per game as a senior. During her time as a Lady Hawk, she led North Sanpete to the 2014 region title and its first ever state tournament appearance, getting all the way to the semis.
She knows how to win.
“Last year didn’t sit well with the girls and it was a very humbling and motivating experience,” Christensen said. “My girls are working hard to assure they have a better experience this season. We have some great talent coming back that we are very excited about. The girls are hungry and working extremely hard to reach the goals we have set for this season.”
There’s plenty to overcome. The previously winless Hawks lost by average of 29 points per game, and on two different occasions didn’t clear 10 points in a full game. “I wasn’t there to see their struggles offensively last year and we plan on leaving those issues in the past,” Christensen said, “but I know we are working very hard this year as players and as a coaching staff to improve our scoring woes.”
Point guard Tiffany Peckham returns as the starter for North Sanpete and will dictate the offense. The supporting cast remains to be seen, but if Hawk football taught the residents of Mount Pleasant anything at all, it’s to not overlook a winless team.
North Sanpete dropped their first game of the season to 6A Hillcrest, 49-34. They will be participating in the Shanon Johnson Tournament by playing Uintah, Duchesne, and Mountain Crest next weekend.
Even as the Lady Tigers continue to dominate teams in the regular season, they are commonly tripped by the same nemesis: postseason.
Wasatch Academy had everything going for them last year: an undefeated region record and region title and a 21-1 overall record, their only loss coming across state lines in Nevada, Emanuely De Oliviera was tearing up defenses, and raining in threes from everywhere.
Until the Tigers ran into Kanab.
Despite being one of the best girl’s basketball teams in 2A, the Tigers fell in the second round of the playoffs.
For Wasatch Academy it’s back to reloading. De Oliviera’s graduated, and side star Maria Zanellato goes too, while Courtney Condie follows her father and former Wasatch boys coach Curtis Condie to Vernal.
The Tigers turn to youth and the promise of private recruiting to build yet another contender in 2A hoops.
Wasatch Academy begins their home slate by hosting North Sevier next Tuesday at 7 p.m.