You can come up with all sorts of individual names, school traditions and team playing styles as reasons why the state's 3A southern sextet comprising Region 8 may just be Utah's strongest 3A league from top to bottom.
However, a glance at the combined preseason records - a total 37-20 - suggests that the six teams are doing something right, since none of the six enter Friday's league-openers with a record below .500.Of that combined 37-20 record, the six are 4-9 against 4A competition (including five total losses to the Utah County ranked duo of Timpview and Provo) and 17-9 against 3A peers from Regions 5, 6 and 7. And Payson, Pine View and Spanish Fork took their talents on the road in out-of-state tournaments - California, Arizona and Hawaii, respectively - and finished with a combined 7-2 record.
Cedar City: The Redmen's Goliath-killer named David - 5-9 junior guard David Almodova - was expected to follow up on last year's sensational sophomore season, but Almodova will start league play on the injured list, along with 6-0 senior backcourt mate Eric Blackner, who is still battling lingering effects of a football injury.
Instead, Coach Dick Hobbs will be counting on the inside efforts from the likes of 6-5 senior forward Garland Brinkerhoff and 6-5 junior forward-center Chad Banks to help cover the temporary absence of Almodova and Blackner. Cedar will be taking a 6-2 preseason record into its region opener.
Dixie: First-year Coach Craig Hammer, who moved down from a similar post at Murray, has his Flyers with a 7-2 overall record and a six-game win streak going into start of league play.
Some of top returning experience is also some of the tallest talent on the Dixie team - 6-5 senior forward Shon Prisbrey and 6-3 Trevor Coombs. And there are other sizeable players to draw from as well - 6-5 senior Dave Hunter, 6-6 senior Ben Picklesimer, plus a trio of juniors measuring either 6-5 or 6-4 in Ryan Durrant, Chris Kenworthy, Mike Grow. The guardline features 5-10 junior Steve Comer and 6-2 senior Joe Smith.
Payson: The Lions are showing that last year's Region 8 crown - Payson's first league title in ages - was more than just a showcase for graduated 6-6 banger Jim DeGraffenried, who scored 143 total points in four 3A playoff games. Instead, Coach John Wardenburg's Payson team seems to have picked up from where it left off last year, despite a lack of experience and a tough preseason - the Lions are 6-4 after its early foes included four 4A teams and a three-game swing to San Diego for an 11-team tournament.
Most of the limited experience starts with 6-1 senior guard Travis Parry, 6-4 senior forward Jerry Beck and 6-1 senior guard Bryan Nielson, while newcomers like 6-6 senior center Brady Marshall, 5-10 senior guard Brandon Lefevre and 6-0 sophomore guard Phil DeGraffenried are working out just fine for one of the best-shooting Lion teams in recent seasons.
Pine View: Year in and year out, Coach Lynn Christensen's Panthers play scrappy, pressure, end-to-end defense - and this year's team also carries a pair of sharpshooting scorers in 6-0 senior guard Jed Christensen and 6-3 senior forward Cody Webber.
The younger Christensen is a key returnees, along with 5-8 junior guard Eric Sampson and 6-1 senior forward Travis Fonnesbeck, while Webber leads a host of players - including 6-6 freshman center Ryan Lewis and 6-0 senior guard Chad Atkinson - stepping up into bigger roles for Pine View, which went from a 1-4 start to pull into a 5-5 preseason record.
Spanish Fork: Everybody knows about 6-1 sophomore Robbie Reid, the son of BYU Coach Roger Reid and younger brother to former SF standout Randy Reid who averaged 19 points and 7 assists a game as a freshman. However, that's just one part of the Dons' strong backcourt, which includes 6-2 senior swingman Kent Cook (17 points a game last year) and 6-1 senior Roger Critchfield (10 points, 4 assists).
Coach Mike Gardner has 6-4 senior forward Kirk Johnson (12 points, 10 rebounds) returning inside for the run-and-gun Dons. Others underneath include a 6-4 threesome of senior forward Blaine Hansen, senior center Mike Rawson and junior forward Mark Johnson. Spanish Fork, currently ranked No. 2 in the 3A poll, sports an 8-2 overall record, including three victories in a Hawaiian tournament and losses to 4A Orem and No. 1 Ogden.
Springville: The Red Devils' talented team got off to a very slow start last year and missed the state playoffs with a season-ending overtime loss to Pine View. This year, Matt Hall - a 6-6 senior forward - is the only player back with much experience, but Springville has ran up a 5-5 preseason record, with four of the five losses being to 4A foes in Utah County.
Included among those moving into major roles in the rotation are 6-5 senior forward Andy Crowshaw and 6-2 senior guard Paul Miner, while 6-4 Sam Lee and 6-3 Matt Daybell round out the quintet of senior-class Springville players.