Editor’s note: 2A basketball preview will be in Friday’s Deseret News
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OGDEN — The pressure of defending a state title is something the St. Joseph girls basketball team is enjoying.
It is, after all, the first time the program has been in this position.
"I think it's been a positive thing," said head coach Joe Cravens. "We feel good about things so far, and this is my third year with this group. We're doing things I never dreamed of in my first year here."
That's because it wasn't just the girls who had to adjust to a new coach when Cravens was hired three years ago. It was the coach.
The former Division I men's basketball coach and current TV analyst for the Pac-12 Network had to adjust to coaching the smallest division of high school girls basketball after leading three different college programs.
"I've become a better coach at this level, and I think I understand better what it takes to be successful at this level," he said. "I'm not just coaching high school basketball. I'm coaching 1A girls basketball. It's about as far away from coaching Division I men as you can get."
There are, however, significant similarities.
"The same things that motivated and made me feel successful — the team getting better, watching the players pick up ideas, team concepts, seeing them get better individually — that's what coaching is all about," he said. "And you feel good about that. It doesn't matter what level, what gender. I'm trying to help individuals get better. ... I don't think I would have understood that if I hadn't gone through it."
Cravens helped the Jayhawks upset top-ranked Rich last season for the school's first girls basketball state title. Some of last year's starters have returned, including guard Katie Panushka. The senior is averaging 15 points and four assists per game as the team has gotten off to a 9-0 start.
Liz Toman, who averages 13.3 points and 9.2 rebounds, and Mady White, who averages 7 points, 3.3 assists and 3 steals, give the team options in the paint and on the perimeter.
"I think we're deserving of being in the top five," said Cravens. "I don't know if we're one or we're five, but we have practice tomorrow, and I'm anxious to practice. The challenge is to make us as good as we can be."
Leading up to the state tournament, Cravens expects the team's toughest test to come against region rival Layton Christian. Like most coaches, he sees Rich, Bryce Valley, Manila and Milford as some of the teams that could compete for the state title.
St. Joseph defeated Manila by 10 in preseason play, but the Mustangs will likely be in the mix at the end of the season. Janelle Reed, a senior forward, Emily Catron, a senior guard, and Rebecca Collet, a junior center, are the team's experienced leaders. Collett is averaging 8.3 points and 7.8 rebounds, while Reed is averaging 12.6 points and 8.1 rebounds. Catron is averaging 7.7 points and 6.4 rebounds as the team is off to an 8-1 start.
Manila will be tested in region by last year's runner-up and perennial power Rich High School.
The Rebels are athletic and quick, as usual, with leadership from Alisa Petersen, who averages 15 points per game, Lynzee Wallentine, who averages 6 points per game, Alyssa Brown, who averages 8.25 points per game, and Emma Peart, who averages nearly 7 points per game.
Milford is off to an impressive start with wins over Rich, Green River, Monticello and Duchesne. The Tigers have played one of the tougher preseason schedules and they've proved themselves a contender in a tough region and at the state level.
They're led by Kennedy Netto, who is averaging 15 points and 5.5 rebounds per game; Chandler Rose, who is averaging 14 points and 4.25 rebounds per game; and Tia Florence, who is averaging 8 points and 5 rebounds per game.
The secret to Milford's success is the fact that all but two of the Tigers' players have shared the court since grade school.
"I've been coaching these girls for quite some time, probably fifth grade," said head coach Jeff Brough. "I knew they had the potential to become something special. Things have just kind of fallen our way so far. But our region is tough and there are some good teams at the state level. So we'll see how we compete against them."
Florence and her twin sister Nicole are the two new players, but Brough said they've assimilated well and provide depth and athleticism that's only made the team tougher.
"So far our strength is that everybody knows where everybody is," he said. "This is not their first rodeo, I guess you could say. They're just a fun team to watch play."
Milford's region is one of the deepest with Bryce Valley, Piute and Panguitch all possible contenders for the Region 20 title. And even with 0-4 region records, Wayne and Valley could upset any of the top teams on any given night.
"There is not a weak team in our region," he said. "If you're not on your game, they'll beat you. I think it's good. It gets the girls prepared for the tournaments." Bryce Valley is ranked No. 5 right now after a 9-1 start to the season. The team is led by Whitni Syrett, who averages 16 points and 5.4 rebounds per game, and Taylor Talbot, who averages 6.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game. Bryce Valley has already beaten two 2A teams — Kanab and Parowan — as well as Wayne, Panguitch and Piute in region play.
Green River is another team that could be in the mix in February and should compete for a Region 19 title. The Pirates are led by senior Michaela Hughes, who averages 13.8 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. Layton Christian is another team that could compete as it has an athletic team with a tough-minded approach. LCA is led by Teneshia Davison, who averages 14.8 points and 14.3 rebounds per game.
STATEWIDE 1A RANKINGSComment on this story
- St. Joseph 9-0
- Manila 8-1
- Rich 7-1
- Milford 11-1
- Bryce Valley 9-1
- St. Joseph
- Layton Christian
- West Ridge
- Legacy Prep
- Green River
- Monument Valley
- Navajo Mountain
- Bryce Valley