Bryce Valley would love to avenge last year's state championship game loss to Rich.
But losing seven players from last year's second-place team, while the Rebels return nearly all of last year's 1A state championship squad seems like a bit of an uphill battle — at best.
Still, coaches had enough confidence in the strength of the Mustang program that they voted them No. 1 in preseason polls. Their own coach, however, gives the nod to the Rebels.
"I think Rich is clearly the number one team right now," said Bryce Valley head coach Tyson Brinkerhoff. "But we are off to a pretty good start."
That may be because the girls from Tropic have a lot more to play for than revenge.
"We have a unique situation," said Brinkerhoff. "One of our players' father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in May or June of last year. He came to me and said, 'Promise me you'll win a state championship this year.' So that's been our yell every game, 'Promise me.'"
Steve Pollock's daughter, Makelle Pollock is a junior on the team, and he's in the stands at every game.
"He's been on really strong chemotherapy since September, but he still shows up most of the time," said Brinkerhoff. "Our girls always acknowledge him. … Our girls are going to try and keep that promise."
Leadership comes in the form of returning starters Sydney Cornforth, a senior, and Whitni Syrett, a junior. Syrett is averaging nearly 17 points per game, while Cornforth is averaging almost nine per game. And the Mustangs have played one of their toughest preseason schedules ever.
The squad's only losses came against two ranked 2A teams — Beaver and Kanab. Bryce Valley plays in a very tough region — and one of the bigger 1A regions. They'll have to face Wayne, currently ranked No. 3 and 8-0 so far this season.
The Badgers are very balanced with Sarah Taylor and Haley Robins leading the offense with nearly 10 points per game each. Whitney Coleman adds seven points and Darci Clark is averaging 6.3 points per game.
Milford has already made an appearance in the top 5 rankings, and is led by Mariah Dotson and Kennedy Netto, both of whom are averaging just over nine points per game.
But if Bryce Valley happens to drop a region game, it will be defending 1A champions Rich that will take over the No. 1 spot in the rankings. The Rebels return most of last year's talented team, and their strength is that they are so balanced offensively and so tough defensively.
Senior Courtney Lamborn leads the team with 17.29 points, while Alisa Petersen adds 12.3 points per game. Tristin Bowers and Cassidy McKee, as well as Lynzee Wallentine are capable of pouring in a lot of points while wreaking havoc on an opposing team's efforts to score.
"Our goal is to win it," said Rich head coach Scott Ferguson. "We've got as good a chance as anybody. Having everybody back is tough in one way because everybody expects you to win it again."
But he admits returning all of his starters is a luxury coaches don't often have.
"We're a lot further along in our different schemes and offenses than we normally would be," he said.
Like Bryce Valley, the Rebels (Region 21) have played a tough preseason and the team's two losses came against 3A's Judge and Laramie, Wyo.
Brinkerhoff said this season may have some of the old favorites, but it's definitely a title up for grabs. As for his team's chances, he laughs.
"Anything is possible," he said. "They play hard."
Other teams that could contend for the 1A title are also off to solid starts. St. Joseph and Layton Christian are the two top teams in Region 17. The Jayhawks are led by Katie Panushka and Katie Berry, both of whom are averaging 13.33 points per game. Alissa Atisme and Shayla Simpson lead Layton Christian with 14 and 10.5 points per game, respectively.
In Region 18, the top team is Wendover. The Wildcats are led by Nancy De Santiago, who is averaging 8.2 points per game, and Erika Maldonado, who averages nearly six points.
In Region 19, Monument Valley is led by Destinee Holiday, who averages 21 points per game, and Jandra Nelson, who averages 12.5 points.
1A projections1 comment on this story
1. Bryce Valley
1. St. Joseph
2. Layton Christian
4. Concordia Prep
5. West Ridge
2. Monument Valley
3. Green River
6. Navajo Mountain
1. Bryce Valley