Salem Hills has never won a playoff game but, apparently, most 4A coaches believe that will change this season.
The Skyhawks got the No. 1 nod from coaches in preseason polls, something head coach Mike Conner says is because of the experience in his lineup.
"I started with these girls three years ago when they were a brand new school," said Conner, who said this is his 30th and final year as a high school hoops coach. "We have seven girls who've played three years of varsity basketball."
Two of those, 6-3 center Lyssa Hanks and 5-9 guard Hailey Ingram, have started every single one of their high school games. Add to that experience the fact that senior guard Georgia Agnew from New Zealand decided she'd like to give high school in America a try this year, and the Skyhawks look poised to contend for both the region and state title.
Conner believes that's the case, but echoes the majority of 4A coaches who see the title race as just about anybody's to win.
"I do think 4A is wide open," said Conner. "There are probably eight legitimate contenders, and usually there are only three or four that really have a chance. I think we're one of those eight."
Hanks is leading the team with 17 points per game. Her performance is even more impressive considering that she wasn't able to practice right away because she had surgery on a bone in her toe. Agnew, who is being recruited by several colleges in Utah is averaging 10.7 points per game, and Ingram, who is averaging 9.6 points per game, give the Skyhawks plenty of depth offensively.
The team's strength is defense, which will surely be tested in the region race. The Skyhawks open up with cross-town rival, Maple Mountain, also a top-five team.
"The rivalry was a natural thing," said Conner of the schools that are just a few miles apart. "They opened up within a year of each other; it's not a nasty rivalry; it's a very healthy rivalry. It really helps girls basketball because we get a lot of people out to watch."
Maple Mountain will be starting region play with one of the state's toughest teams on Tuesday after two straight losses — Westlake and Juab. The Golden Eagles are led by junior guard Aleksa Gappmayer, who is averaging 12 points per game, senior center Baylee Nielsen, who is averaging 8.2 points, and senior forward Sadie Williams, who is averaging just over seven points per game.
"We are returning our entire varsity squad from last year's semi-final run in the state tournament," said head coach Cory Green. "Hopefully with that returning experience, along with our athleticism and depth (we rotated eight different starters last season and plan to do the same this year), we can again put together a successful region and state tournament run this year."
Another team that could spoil the plans of both Salem Hills and Maple Mountain is Timpanogos. The T-wolves return seven players from last year's team, including two starters. They not only got the No. 3 ranking in preseason polls, but they navigated a tough preseason with a 5-2 record.
Timpanogos is led by senior guard Mercedes Riggs, who is averaging 14.5 points per game, and sophomore forward Eternity Galeai, who is averaging 13.6 points.
Cyprus got a preseason nod and remains in the rankings after an impressive start to the season with just one loss — to Bingham. A big reason for both the preseason ranking and the success is senior Lori Parkinson.
"Lori has embraced her role as captain and has vastly improved from last year, which is fairly incredible," said head coach Josh Adams, referring to Parkinson's averaging a double-double last season.
This year she has help, including two transfers — Marquessa Gilson, a junior guard who is averaging nine points per game, and Julie Caputo, a junior point guard who is averaging nearly 12 points per game. Abby Barrett, a junior center/forward is off to a great start as she averages 10.3 points per game.
Parkinson, however, leads them all with 13.4 points, 15.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists and six steals per game.
"The team resonates with her personality and the players genuinely care about each other," said Adams.
Sky View sits atop Region 5 with an 8-2 record, but Bonneville is right there with a 7-3 record.
The Bobcats have a new coach, but continue to win just like they always have. The team is led by forward Tara Goldman, who is averaging 13.7 points, senior guard Dannika Webb, who is averaging 8.7 points, Maddie Day, who is averaging 8.1 points, and Whitney Alvey, who averages 7.7 points per game.
Two other teams that will be in the mix are Westlake and Bonneville. The Thunder are led by Shannon Jenson, who averages 15.8 points per game, and Ashley Calder, who averages 9.6 points per game.
The Lakers benefit from adding 1A all-state player Emilie Volk to an already talented line-up. Volk is averaging 12.3 points per game, while Kayla Elertson adds 10.2 points per game.
Skyline also got some respect in the preseason but has struggled through a tough schedule. Senior center Miquelle Askew leads the scoring with 20 points per game, while Sydney Taylor, who averages 7.7 points, and Ashley Aberton, who adds 5.7 points per game, give the Eagles a solid line-up.
Mountain Crest, Mountain View, which recently beat Sky View, and Roy could also be in the mix come February.
Note: Projections were picked by Deseret News staff, with input from coaches
1. Mtn. Crest
2. Sky View
6. Box Elder
3. Woods Cross
1. Salem Hills
3. Maple Mountain
4. Mountain View
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