Survival of the fastest.
As Utah’s smallest schools descend on the Sevier Valley Center in Richfield for the 1A girls basketball state tournament this weekend, determining the best may come down to simply chasing down the fastest.
“There are a lot of young teams filled with quick girls, fast girls,” said Piute head coach Wade Westwood. “There are not a lot of big girls. It’s a more fast-paced game, and it’s fun to watch.”
Leading the way with the run-and-gun style of play is Panguitch, the Region 20 champion that is averaging 65.1 points per game while allowing just 35.0 throughout a spotless season.
The Bobcats, who were given the top Deseret News ranking by 1A coaches at the start of the season and never relinquished the position, have recorded high scoring numbers via contributions from 11 different players. Junior Darri Frandsen leads the way, sitting at the top of the 1A leaderboards with 17.8 points and 11.3 rebounds per game.
“Panguitch is tough — and most of them are just sophomores,” Westwood said of the team that does not have a single senior on its roster. “A lot of their girls were on the state championship team in cross-country, and they just run really well.”
Orton, a sophomore guard who leads 1A with 4.7 assists per contest, was the individual 1A cross-country champion. Junior guard Catania Holman was second, Frandsen was 11th overall and sophomore forward Mazie Miller was 14th.
Meanwhile, Westwood’s team, which is ranked second in 1A and was the tournament runner-up a year ago, knows the Bobcats well after playing them twice in region play and once more in the Region 20 tournament. Panguitch won all three games, but the most recent victory was by just two points.
“We hoped the third time would be the charm,” Westwood said of Piute's 39-37 loss in the region title game. “Playing a team that many times, we are getting to know them better and better and it just gets harder.”
The T-Birds were led in that contest, and all season long, by sisters Kierra Gleave and Shaylee Gleave. The former, a senior forward, is averaging 13.1 points per game, while the latter, a junior guard, is averaging 14.1 points and 1.4 3-pointers per game.
Senior guard Whitney Westwood is also averaging double figures with 10.6 points per contest.
“The Gleave sisters have been playing really well,” Coach Westwood said, “and Whitney Westwood is one of our toughest defenders.”
The next two teams in the Region 20 standings, Wayne and Milford, also look to make noise in the state tournament. Each have given Piute and Panguitch a scare during league play and are also hoping, given another opportunity, that the third time will be the charm.
In the eastern part of the state, Region 19 champion Monticello enters the tournament on a nine-game winning streak and finished league play with a 9-1 record after losing to Green River in overtime. The Buckaroos’ only game against a western team, however, was an 18-point loss to Milford in early December.
Defending champion St. Joseph enters the tournament with a perfect 10-0 record in Region 18 and just one loss total, which was against a talented 2A team in its season opener. The Rich Rebels, meanwhile, escaped Region 17 with a perfect 8-0 record of their own. The Rebels also met Milford early on, losing by 12 in the season opener.
Monticello is led on the floor by the scoring of Zoe Chadwick, who averages 12.7 points per game. The Jayhawks are led by Liz Tomon’s 13.5 points per night, Mady White’s 11.4 points per night, and Amanda Higgs’ 2.25 3-pointers per game. And Rich is led by Cami Lamborn’s 11.3 points per game and Baylee Wamsley’s 1.2 3-pointers per night.
“Rich is always good and St. Joseph is a very tough team,” Westwood said. “These games will be fun to watch.”
Sarah Thomas earned a degree in Mathematics from the University of Utah and is currently pursuing an MBA at Westminster College. She has been covering sports for the Deseret News since 2008.