The second-ranked Rich Rebels had the toughest first-round game last year.
They earned that same distinction this season thanks to the always unpredictable Region 20 Tournament.
"I can't seem to get away from them," said Rich head coach Scott Ferguson with a slight laugh. "I wish they would (get rid of the Region 20 tournament)."
Last year, region champion Bryce Valley slipped to the fourth-seed and drew Rich, while this year, region champ Panguitch took third in the tournament and will face the Rebels. Both teams have been ranked in the top five all season, and it promises to be the marquee matchup of the first day of the 1A girls state basketball tournament at the Sevier Valley Center on Wednesday.
Ferguson isn't losing any more sleep than usual, as he's not sure playing any team from Region 20 is any easier than another.
"I think there are three or four teams that are pretty good," he said. "We're just trying to approach it as a regular game."
The Rebels navigated region play with an 8-0 record and currently own an 18-1 record overall. Two of the team's starters were on last year's second-place team. The team has the second-best defense in the class, holding opponents to an average of just 30 points per game.
Still, Ferguson always worries that not having the experience of a tough region battle will be a detriment to the team.
"We feel good, but our region is a little weaker and that always concerns me," he said. "You get used to playing a certain way, and sometimes that can come back to bite you. We'll just get ready the best way we can."
The Rebels are led by senior center Alisa Petersen, senior forwards Emma Peart and Alyssa Brown, senior guard Lynzee Wallentine and junior guard Cami Lamborn.
Ferguson isn't the only one concerned about his team's ability to square off against the battle-tested teams of Region 20. Top-ranked defending state champion St. Joseph is in the same boat.
"I'm not sure how good we are because we haven't played a very good schedule," said St. Joseph head coach Joe Cravens. "I'm really worried about that first game at 10 a.m. because I think we get Region 20's fifth-place team."
He said he isn't even worried about defending the title at this point, and instead is focused on just winning that first-round game in which the Jayhawks face the winner of the Legacy Prep-Wayne play-in game.
The Jayhawks got a significant test from region rival Layton Christian, and Cravens said that may be the best preparation for the tournament.
"It was a great game, probably for both of us, to prepare for the tournament," Cravens said. "We were down five with three minutes to go. … They're the type of team that is very athletic, they can score, and I think they can go deep in this tournament, maybe even win it. I was happy we were able to win that last game." Cravens relies on a talented crew, including senior guard Katie Panushka and junior forward Liz Tomon.
He said they will likely get every team's best effort after their championship run last year.
"Last year we weren't supposed to win the first game, and there we were in the championship game," he said. "We are not going to slip into town this year." Third-ranked Piute won the Region 20 tournament and will be Region 20's top seed. The T-birds will take on ICS in their first-round game Wednesday night.
Fourth-ranked Manila has only three losses — two to Rich in region play and one to St. Joseph in pre-season play. The Mustangs are led by senior Janell Reed, senior Emily Catron and junior Rebecca Collett.
Milford is not ranked, but it finished fourth in region play and earned a No. 2 seed with a second-place finish in the tournament. The Tigers could make the tournament very interesting behind the play of Chandler Rose and Kennedy Netto.
Fifth-ranked Panguitch is extremely young with three freshmen and two sophomores as the team's major contributors. The team is led by sophomore forward Darri Frandsen, freshman forward Taylor Bennett, freshman forward Chesney Campbell, freshman guard Whittnie Orton and sophomore guard Catania Holman.
Wendover won Region 18 without a loss and faces third-seeded Monticello in what should be another interesting first-round match-up. Monument Valley earned the Region 19 title with a 10-0 record, and the squad faces Escalante from Region 20.
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