In a mere three months, five high school girls basketball teams will be crowned champions.
From opening night, which took place a week ago for many teams, to the final games of the season, 129 schools will battle across Utah for those state titles.
In some classifications, there are heavy favorites heading into the season. In others, such as 4A, preseason voting by the coaches was all over the map. Just two of last year’s five champions were voted as preseason No. 1s, while two 2013 runners-up were voted into the early top spots.
Here is a class-by-class look at the teams to beat during the 2013-14 season:
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
The two teams that played in the title game a year ago, defending champion Riverton and second-place finisher Layton, have been voted to the top of the rankings — but in reverse order.
Van Price’s Layton Lancers, the preseason No. 1, are led this season by five returning seniors, including guard Maddi Smith, who led the team in scoring a year ago with 12.4 points per game.
“Layton has a good returning team with good size and athleticism,” Price said. “Many of the returners have a lot of experience for the state championship last year, so we look to have another good season.”
Ron Ence’s Riverton Silverwolves, voted into the No. 2 spot, return two senior guards — Mallory Bostic and Shelby Richards — and add to the mix senior LaTeesha Richards, who was ineligible a year ago after transferring from Bingham.
Fremont starts the year with the No. 3 ranking and Bingham with the No. 5 ranking after each team reached the semifinal round a season ago. Brighton, which fell to the Silverwolves in the opening round of the state tournament last year, opens the season at No. 4 and has four key contributors back on the roster.
“We have a great deal of returning players,” head coach Jim Gresh said of his trio of 5-foot-11 forwards — Maddy Chin, Alyssa Hirschi and McCall Christensen — as well as guard Lindsey Johnson.
“We should be exciting to watch,” he said. “We are looking forward to the season.”
Price added that it should be an exciting year throughout the classification.
“There are some very good, experienced teams that will challenge for a state title and make this year’s run a very interesting one,” he said. “Fremont, Brighton, Riverton, Bingham, Viewmont, Pleasant Grove, Layton, Alta and several more teams ... could make this year’s title chase one of the deepest in recent memory.”
With 14 different teams receiving votes, 4A is the most diverse entering the season. Leading the way, however, is defending champion Springville.
While the Red Devils, who lost their season opener to Riverton by 20 points, could experience a drop-off this season, they still have experience on their side. In addition to three returning contributors — including guards Savannah Park and Kate Hullinger and 6-foot-3 center Brooke Wheeler — Springville has played in the last five championship games, winning three of them.
“We are excited about the upcoming season,” said head coach Camie Oakey. “Our girls have worked extremely hard during the offseason, and we are anxious to see where we stand.”
Second in the early rankings is Bonneville, which reached the semifinals last season with a 23-1 overall record. The Lakers return three seniors in guard Cortney Porter and forwards Abby Toller and Kayla Eilertson, as well as guard Shayla Simpson, who transferred from Layton Christian Academy.
“We have a lot of experience back from last year,” said head coach Mike Russell. “We have very high expectations for this group.”
Timpview, Sky View and Timpanogos round out the top five. The Thunderbirds return guards Lauryn Dela Cruz, a senior, and Lyndie Haddock and Lacy Haddock, both juniors, from last season’s finals team. Head coach Casey Sundquist is excited about the outlook of the new season.
“Our guard line is quick and is going to be tough to stop,” she said. “Our post play is strong. We are going to push the ball and put lots of pressure on teams. I think it is going to be a fun year for us.”
The preseason 3A rankings were dominated by just two regions. Three teams from Region 9 and two from Region 10 were voted to the top five by coaches. 2013 runner-up Desert Hills overwhelmingly took the top spot, and will be led this season by 6-foot-3 returning forward Haley Bodnar.
Defending champion Dixie was voted into the early No. 5 spot, while Cedar, a semifinal squad a year ago, is No. 3.
“We are a young team with some great offensive ability,” said Cedar coach John A. Elison, who returns five contributors. “Once we get our defense where we envision it, we could be a team to watch.”
Cedar juniors Javlyn Weaver and Megan Fletcher and sophomore Shana Foley are each 6 foot, and will be fed passes by guards Lisa Ballenger, a junior, and Courtney Morley, a sophomore.
The two northern teams, Morgan and Juan Diego, are No. 2 and No. 4, respectively.
Both schools return four starters, whom their coaches, Brad Matthews of Morgan and Natalie Williams of Juan Diego, are eager to put back on the floor with their incoming talent.
“We are very excited about the strength of our returning players as well as our freshman class,” Williams said.
“We are excited for this year and the possibilities for this team,” Matthews said. “We have a good mixture of senior leadership and young talent. The girls are enthusiastic and ready to go.”
Emery, the 2013 state runner-up, debuts this season as the early No. 1 pick, while Enterprise enters at the No. 2 spot.
Behind the leadership of four returning contributors, the Wolves look to bounce back after finishing sixth a year ago. Seniors Dakota Robinson, Jaycee Reber and Josie Mitchell lead the way, along with junior forward Riley Lyman, who averaged 10.4 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game last season.
“I am looking forward to a great year,” said head coach Lance Jones. “I am excited to be able to coach a great group of girls.”
Beaver is No. 3 in the early rankings. The Beavers are led by seniors Macail Wood, a 6-foot-2 post player, Jenessa Jessup, a 6-foot post player, and guard Schyler Jordan.
“We have two of the best players in the classification in Macail Wood and Schyler Jordan,” said head coach Jonathan Marshall. “We hope to be able to improve throughout the season to reach the state tournament and compete with the best teams in 2A.”
Rounding out the preseason rankings are No. 4 Delta and No. 5 North Summit. The Braves exited the 2013 tournament in the first round, while the Rabbits held their own in 3A, finishing sixth overall.
“After graduating five seniors and only returning one starter, we will be young and inexperienced,” said Delta coach Kurtis Topham. “We hope that by playing a tough preseason schedule, we will gain that experience by the time region play rolls around.”
Topham’s team will be led by senior Malori Howell and expects contributions from junior guard Hayley Sorensen and sophomore forward Sidney Springer.
Panguitch returns to the top of the 1A rankings after finishing sixth a year ago. The squad is made up of underclassmen who gained vital experience in 2012-13.
“Most of (our returners) were able to experience game time in the state tournament last year,” said head coach Curtis Barney, “which has given them a hunger to return and compete again this year.”
Barney’s four returners are Darri Frandsen, a junior forward, and sophomores Whittni Orton, Taylor Bennett and Chesney Campbell.
“This team will be quick as well as have some length, which should help us on both ends of the floor,” Barney said. “If we play solid defense and cut down on young mistakes, we should compete with the best teams.”
Defending champion St. Joseph was voted into the No. 4 spot and runner-up Piute enters the season No. 2. Wayne, which made the tournament with a play-in game and then lost in the consolation bracket, was voted by coaches into the No. 3 position. Milford, the fifth-place squad, is No. 5.
The Tigers return two starters from last season in Kennedy Netto and Chandler Rose. Both are senior guards who each averaged more than 13 points and five rebounds per game.
“Region 20 will be a tough region to play in again. We are loaded with talent and great teams,” said Milford head coach Jeff Brough. “I am looking forward to some great games.”