Public schools look to rebound from last year, Wasatch hopes to continue its winning ways
As fall leaves slowly blanket the frozen valley floor, lights go on in high school gymnasiums as teams prepare for the 2016-17 basketball season.
The three Sanpete County high schools, along with Wasatch Academy, are preparing to begin the boys basketball season in two weeks.
Last season didn’t provide much success for the three public high schools, with two first-round losses and one school missing the playoffs entirely. Visions and expectations remain high for these teams as the look toward their season openers.
Times have changed for the Gunnison Bulldogs, and memories of 2012 seem more distant than they really are.
For the Bulldogs and their head coach, Ben Hill, it’s all about picking up the pieces.
Gunnison Valley experienced the bottom falling out on their prior successful program in 2014-15. In one season, they went from being a regular playoff contender to a doormat for most teams in 2A.
The change especially hurt considering the Bulldogs were the little guys in the 2012 2A championship, eventually losing to a Wasatch Academy team that was simply playing on a different level. But Gunnison Valley played competitively from start to finish.
Last year, not much changed for the Bulldogs, who finished the season with a lackluster 5-15 and did not qualify for the 2A
wart, the leading scorer last year with an average of 14 points per game.
Gunnison looks to establish momentum early. Their first game will be against a supposedly easy Maeser Prep team on Tuesday, Nov. 29. Their next game is against Delta, followed by their home opener against Waterford on Wednesday, Dec. 7.
Manti Templar basketball had a roller coaster season last year, but it wasn’t a happy ending.
The Templars struggled mightily to start the year, going 2-7 in their first nine games. They also came away winless in the inaugural Coach Walker Classic in St. George.
After a loss against South Sevier following the tournament, the team seemed to flip a switch. As they rolled into their regular season, they won eight of their next nine games. Perhaps the most impressive showing during that span was a 100-point performance against North Sevier, where the Templars scored 39 points in the fourth quarter.
After that streak, things cooled down. Manti skidded into the playoffs by losing three of their last four games. They were then ousted in the first round by North Summit.
The Templars are looking to improve on last season’s 11-12 finish. Notable, senior Mac Stevens is returning. Stevens averaged 6.3 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game last year.
Other returning seniors are Corbin Linam and Sam Benson. Junior Tanner Rasmussen, who averaged 2.6 points per game, and junior Matt Nelson, a solid rebounder, are returning as well.
The Templars began their season with a home opener against South Sevier on Tuesday (game was played after press time) before traveling to Juab next Tuesday, Nov. 29 at 7 p.m.
Speaking of roller coasters, the North Sanpete Hawks had one of their own last year, except it happened in completely opposite fashion to Manti.
The Hawks started off hot against decent competition. Despite starting the season with several away games, they built up a record of 5-0.
Signs of struggle began showing when North Sanpete went 1-2 in the Indian Classic in Idaho. After that, a promising season fell apart for the Hawks, who went 4-9 through the rest of the season. In the first 3A, Region 12 play-off game, the Hawks fell in a close matchup against Juan. The loss ended the Hawks season at 10-11.
Still, 2015 season showed signs of improvement for a program with no playoff success since 2010. The Hawks spent a few years before 2014 not getting into playoffs at all.
Now, North Sanpete has a whole new challenge. Six seniors departed last year, leaving the Hawks with a junior-heavy squad. Who’s the player to watch?
Head Coach Cris Hoops says there is none. “Everyone plays together,” Hoopes says. “It really could be anybody. We don’t have any superstar, but we have a tremendous group effort.”
This season is all about continuing the upward trend. “Coming into our first game,” Hoops says, “we just want to continue to improve and get better. We’re very scrappy, and these boys are quick to the floor. Being a physically smaller team, our boys know that they have to win loose-ball situations.
The Hawks begin their season at home against arch rival Delta on Wednesday, Nov. 30, at 7 p.m.
It’s been two years since the Wasatch Academy basketball program declared itself as a 2A independent program. After a 29-4 season, it’s safe to say the idea was a huge success.
Last year, Wasatch was ranked third in the state behind only Bingham and Lone Peak, the latter of which they nearly beat, 65-63, when current Duke University guard Frank Jackson was playing for the Knights.
The Tigers were led by guard Koby McEwen, who is now averaging double figures as starting guard at Utah State.
Now, the Tigers get to reload and continue their dominance. Returning starters Emmanuel Akot, Jeff Baradziej, and Josip Vrankic are leading the charge for Wasatch.
Akot is No. 17 in recruiting rankings for the class of 2018, while Vrankic recently turned down Pac-12 and Southeastern Conference (SEC) offers to play for Santa Clara University in the West Coast Conference.
In a pre-season USA Today poll, Wasatch begins its season ranked No. 15 in the nation. A big test for the ambitious team will be late in the season when the Tigers travel to California to take on Chino Hills, the top-ranked team in the country in multiple polls.
“We’re excited to be the first non-California team willing to take them on their own court,” head Coach Curtis Condie says.
The Tigers will start their season in the Chaminade Tournament and then play their first game in Utah against national power Findlay Prep of Nevada in Cedar City on Wednesday, Nov. 30.