For years the Rich High girls basketball team struggled to get past 1A powerhouse Panguitch.

Then last season, it seemed the Rebels' time had come. They beat the Bobcats by nearly 30 points in the first round of tournament play and then moved fairly easily through the rest of the bracket.

They met one of the state's smallest schools and Region 16 rival Tabiona in the championship game for what turned out to be a thriller. The Rebels lost 51-50 on a three-point play by Tigers' center Stacy Stringham with 10 seconds left in the game.

And while time heals most emotional wounds, sometimes the sting of losing a heart-breaker like that just never really goes away.

"I'm still not over it," said Rich coach Scott Ferguson. "I lost a championship game in football at Highland High, and I'm still not over that."

Would winning this season ease his pain?

"It would definitely help," he said with a laugh.

What actually might be to Ferguson's advantage is that for the first time in eight years, the Rebels did not win the 1A volleyball title.

"I think our girls might be a little more hungry this year," he said. And then adds, "At least I'm hoping."

Despite losing the championship game last year and one of the state's best players to graduation, a preseason poll of 1A coaches put Rich at the top of the rankings against this season. It's something that Ferguson wasn't so sure about before the team started playing games, but in their first few games, the Rebels are proving they're worthy of their No. 1 ranking.

"We're actually playing a little better than I thought we'd be at this point," Ferguson said. "I think we're right there."

The Rebels lost leading scorer Sami Cornelison, but they return three players with talent and varsity experience in senior Britani Groll, guard; senior Olivia Johnson, forward; and junior Allie Eastman, guard/forward.

The team that has traditionally fought the Rebels for that top spot is Panguitch, and coaches gave the Bobcats the No. 2 spot. The squad returns its leading scorer in Hailey Orton and some strong supporting players in senior guard Krystal Taylor and senior forward Lacee Rosser.

Coach Curtis Barney said he has several young players who, "by the end of the season, could make us contenders."

Ferguson, who saw Panguitch play at a pre-season tournament, said it's a team that will only get better.

Green River was voted No. 3 in the pre-season poll, and the Pirates should be tough despite losing all but one starter from last year's fourth-place team.

"The girls are hard workers and enjoy being with each other and playing together," said coach Greg Parsons. "There is a lot of potential with this team."

The lone senior is Leah Swalberg, a 6-foot-1 forward, who is joined by Brandi Webster, a 6-1 junior center, in the paint. Junior guards Crosby Hatt and Lindsey Spadafora will also help Green River contend this season.

Valley was ranked No. 4 by coaches despite losing all of last season's starters. Coaches Mack and Sheldon Roundy have scheduled the toughest pre-season they could for their young players in hopes they'll be able to beat those top teams come tournament time.

Senior Malissa Maxwell and senior Kendra Maxwell provide the leadership for the team that will feature players like Courtney Lamb, junior; Sara Hoyt, junior; Savanna Sawyer, junior; and Kenzie Leigh, sophomore.

Intermountain Christian School was ranked No. 5 in the pre-season poll because it returns a lot of experience. The team has already beaten Valley in pre-season play and promises to be prominent in the play-off picture behind the talents of Melissa Maxwell, Brooke Anderson, Ashley Moore and Monica Schwarz.

Tabiona lost most of last year's championship team, but it returns senior point guard Savana Gines and senior forward Jessie Walton. Bryce Valley should also be a team that contends this season as it returns all of last year's starters. The squad is led by senior forward Karissa Shakespear and senior guard Charlee Ott.

Another squad that could contend is Monticello, a team that features some talent.

1A preseason girls basketball rankings

1. Rich

2. Panguitch

3. Green River

4. Valley

5. ICS

Determined by a pre-season poll of coaches