Forget what you knew about the landscape of girls basketball in Utah; it has changed.
With the addition of a sixth classification in the latest round of UHSAA realignment, there’s been a major shake-up in the state.
In fact, four of the 10 teams who participated in last year’s state championship games have moved up or down a classification. Viewmont, Judge and Richfield — all runners-up — moved down a classification, while Emery moved up.
With so many teams shifting around, there’s a ton of uncertainty heading into the season.
Here’s a class-by-class look at the upcoming season and what to expect from the primary contenders.
A year ago there were four 20-win teams in the state’s top classification, one in each region — Sky View, Viewmont, Copper Hills and American Fork.
Will there be any this year?
Sky View and Viewmont have dropped down into smaller classifications, defending champion American Fork is rebuilding after graduating most of last year’s roster, while Copper Hills has a lot to prove as well.
“This season is shaping up to be the most unpredictable in years,” said Copper Hills coach Benjamin Morley, whose team begins the year ranked No. 1 in the Deseret News preseason rankings. “It seems like every team is both flawed and dangerous.”
Breaunna Gillen, left, and Eleyana Tafisi of Copper Hills, guard Makenzie McCombs of Riverton in Draper on Friday, Dec. 16, 2016. | Ravell Call, Deseret News
Morley’s team returns three starters from last year, led by junior Breaunna Gillen who averaged 9.8 ppg last year. The Grizzlies are gritty team that will rely heavily on defense night in and night out.
Riverton will provide a big test in Region 3 for Copper Hills, as the Silverwolves return three starters — including all-state center Morgan Kane.
The strongest region in the new 6A figures to be Region 4, which features Bingham, American Fork, Pleasant Grove, Lone Peak and Westlake.
Bingham was pegged by the coaches as the early front-runner, but every team in the region has some questions to answer as none return more than two starters.
“We are young but these girls work hard. We have a tough region where every game is like a state tournament game. Our preseason schedule is just as tough. It will be a battle every day,” said Bingham coach Charron Mason.
American Fork has a new head coach this year, with Brock White taking over for Corey Clayton. He inherits an inexperienced team that might start slow, but he likes the winning mentality of his team.
“With 12 of our 19 varsity players playing either fall soccer or volleyball, it could take our team a little while to get back into basketball mode,” said White. “But with volleyball taking third and soccer taking the championship, we have a team full of winners.”
Westlake missed the playoffs last year, but expectations both internally and then around Region 4 are for the Thunder to have a much stronger season.
While Region 3 and 4 were unaffected by realignment, the same can’t be said for Regions 1 and 2. Sky View won the Region 1 title the past two years, but this year has dropped down to Region 12.
The Bobcats’ absence leaves Fremont and Layton as the top contenders in Region 1.
“We have battle-tested veterans and newcomers that will immediately contribute. (Class) 6A and Region 1 are going to be extremely competitive and we are excited to compete against great teams,” said Fremont coach Lisa Dalebout.
In Region 2, Hillcrest and Cyprus both return four starters and figure to be the front-runners in a region that will struggle to compete with the big dogs in 6A once the playoffs roll around.
There is no shortage of star power in 5A basketball this season, as many of the top players last year were underclassmen.
Skyline's Madison Grange drives the ball against Judge during the 4A state championship in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Madison Grange is back for her senior year after being named 4A MVP for leading Skyline to the state title. Alta’s Kemery Martin, Bountiful’s Jaimee Stahle and Corner Canyon’s Jaeden Vaifanua were among 4A’s leading scorers and they’re also back.
Realignment has injected even more talent. Viewmont and West remain in 5A this season instead of bumping up to 6A, which means reigning 5A MVP from Viewmont, Mercedes Staples, and then West’s Brianna White are also in the classification. Staples averaged 17.4 ppg for the 5A runner-ups last year, while White averaged 20.4.
“I am excited for this team, as it comprises experienced players with young talent. Through discipline and teamwork we hope to be able to contend with the top teams in the state,” said Skyline coach Lynette Schroeder.
Her team will have plenty of competition within Region 6 though as East and West both return strong squads. East returns three starters from last year’s quarterfinal team, including two who averaged in double figures — Liana Kaitu’u and Lani Taliuli.
West tied for first in Region 2 last year led by White, but was bounced early from the playoffs. That bitter taste should help the Panthers remain even more focused this year.
Viewmont is the team to beat in Region 5, led by Staples and fellow returning starter Melissa Sorenson.
“The new 5A classification changes will make things interesting. A ton of good teams that have the potential of winning it all. Lots of good players across the state. I can’t wait to see how our young girls fill roles and mature,” said Viewmont coach Clint Straatman.
Roy has four returning starters and could be the dark horse in Region 5, particularly with senior center Josei Williams back after averaging 16.8 points and 8.8 rebounds a year ago.
Region 7 is loaded with contenders as well, with Timpview, Corner Canyon and Alta all expected to contend for the region title.
Timpview lost in the semifinals to Skyline a year ago and returns three starters from that squad. Corner Canyon returns four starters and is primed to make a big jump as a program.
“We are returning a lot of passionate senior players with years of varsity experience combined with some of the most talented juniors in program history,” said Corner Canyon coach Jeramy Acker.
Down south in Region 8 there’s a bit more uncertainty as most teams from a year ago graduated their top players. In fact, region favorite Springville graduated all five starters from last year.
Maple Mountain returns two starters, led by junior Maddy Eaton who hopes to follow in her big sisters’ footsteps as elite high school players in Utah.
“We have quite a few competitive younger players to go along with our three seniors, so I think we will have a solid season. I would anticipate some growing pains early, however, as we adjust to our youth and incoming varsity players,” said coach Cory Green.
With teams converging in 4A from three different classifications from a year ago, there’s definitely some uncertainty heading into the new season.
Sky View was one of the best teams in 5A a year ago, but returns zero starters and is going through a school split. Mountain View was one of the best teams in 4A, but has only two starters back this season.
Defending state champ Juan Diego has no returning starters and a new head coach, Ashley McKray. In fact, there are nine new head coaches in Class 4A this year, which only adds to the uncertainty created by realignment.
Tahlia White, Mountain View | Photo courtesy
Mountain View was pegged by 4A’s coaches as the team to beat, and for good reason. Senior Tahlia White is a returning all-stater after averaging 15.9 points, and she’s back and poised for an even bigger season.
The Bruins have a big void to fill though as fellow all-stater Lavender Briggs transferred to Provo.
Spanish Fork has three starters back a could push Mountain View for the Region 10 title.
“These girls are hungry and ready to be a team to worry about. We have pushed a different tempo, and become a solid unit focusing more on our team as a whole than as individuals. We are in an extremely competitive region this year, with some of the best players in the state. Every night will be big, and I expect big things from these girls this season,” said coach Alyssa Anderson.
Down south, in Region 9, there are four new head coaches, and no consensus on the team to beat either.
Hurricane and Pine View both return all five starters from a year ago, while Cedar returns three key starters.
“We are excited to begin the new season. We have a lot of talent and chemistry and girls who are willing to work hard every day,” said Hurricane coach Franci Homer, whose team is led by senior guard Jayden Langford.
Juan Diego and Stansbury are the front-runners in Region 11. Despite the lack of returning varsity experience, Juan Diego got off to a great start last week with a season-opening win over North Sevier as Kiely Rasmussen and Laulea Tavake each scored in double figures.
With three starters back, Stansbury hopes to be more of a factor after a down year last season.
“We have a lot of girls that are dedicated and passionate about basketball,” said Stansbury coach Kenzie Newton. “With the new alignments it has created some excitement and hope for a lot of schools. It should be a fun season with a lot of good basketball to be played.”
In Region 12, second-year Ridgeline was dubbed the early favorite with three starters back.
Sky View will be the mystery team. Will the program reload, or will it be more of a work in progress?
“We lost a talented group of seniors last year and we lost some girls with the school split. However, our girls are finding their new roles and stepping up to the challenge. As a coaching staff we are excited and ready for the new year,” said Sky View coach Vanessa Hall.
The Bobcats lost their season-opener to Highland, Idaho last week in the first expanded varsity role for the group.
A pair of runner-ups from a year ago will be the teams to beat in the revamped 3A, and ironically enough they’re both in Region 15.
Richfield narrowly lost to Juan Diego in last year’s 3A championship, and it returns four starters from that well-rounded squad.
Juan Diego's Rebecca Curran tries to strip the ball from Richfield's Caitlyn Nabity during the 3A girls basketball state championship in Logan on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
“Another exciting year in store for Richfield. We have an exceptional group of athletes coming back, anxious to get another shot at the title. The entire team, including two college commits, Emma Jones (UVU) and Caitlyn Nabity (Westminster), has been waiting anxiously to get the season started,” said coach Marc Peterson.
Morgan is the top squad in Region 13 led by Jaylyn Van Dyke, who was a second-team all-stater as a sophomore last year, and Marcie Stapley.
Grantsville figures to be in the mix in Region 13 as well with two starters back from last year’s 20-win team.
“I think we turned a corner last year and these girls seem to have carried the good habits we created into this season. Our leadership has been great and I’m excited to see how far we can go,” said coach Megan Vera.
Judge was the 4A runner-up a year ago to Skyline, but senior Miyalla Tarver is the only starter back from that squad. She’s a good one to build around though as he averaged 13.6 points and 6.0 rebounds.
Region 14 could feature the most parity in 3A as Union, Juab, Carbon and Delta each return just a couple of players with varsity experience.
Juab is led by SUU-bound Hannah Robins, a senior forward who averaged 14.1 points and 9.9 rebounds last season.
An injury to Hunter Vernon in the playoffs last season derailed North Summit’s hopes for a state title, but Vernon is back for her senior year as the Braves are the early favorite in 2A.
“We are excited about the upcoming season. We have some good young players who will continue our program’s progress,” said North Summit coach Jerre Holmes.
Along with Vernon, who averaged 10.5 points and 9.0 rebounds, Kennady McQueen is also back for the Braves who are the clear favorite in Region 16.
In Region 16, Wasatch Academy and Rowland Hall figure to be the front-runners.
North Summit’s biggest challengers will come from Region 18, where Beaver, Kanab, North Sevier and Millard all return strong squads.
Members of the North Sevier girls basketball team react to their win against Emery in the girls 2A championship in Richfield on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. | Nicole Boliaux, Deseret News
“We are heading into a much tougher region top to bottom and we are starting region in December rather than January. Most of our preseason games are against 3A and 4A opponents, so this will be a very challenging year,” said North Sevier coach Lexa Larsen, whose team won last year’s 2A title.
“Although we lost six seniors from last year's state championship squad, we don't feel like we are starting from scratch. There is a reason our seniors were so good last year, they had great competition every day.”
Kenzie Mason and Mayci Torgerson are the top returning players for North Sevier.
“We have an athletic group and hope to be able to get up and down the floor. If we can rebound and up our shooting percentage from last year we have a chance to make a run,” said Beaver coach Jonathan Marshall, whose team was tabbed by the coaches as the Region 18 favorite.
Panguitch’s three-year reign in 1A came to an end last season as Bryce Valley captured the state championship. The Bobcats are the early favorite to return to the top podium, however, in 1A this season.
“The Bobcats come off some valuable experiences from last year's state tournament and will look to use that experience in being a contender again this season. We will have more experience and hope to get better in some areas that will give us a better chance of winning each game we play,” said Panguitch coach Curtis Barney.
Tabiona and Bryce Valley play for the 1A state championship in Richfield on Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Defending champion Bryce Valley graduated all five starters from last year’s squad, but should reload to play a factor in the Region 20 race along with Panguitch and Piute.
Wayne finished second behind Bryce Valley in Region 20 last year, but with realignment it will compete in Region 19 this season and look to knock off perennial Region 19 favorite Monticello.
“I am really looking forward to this season. We have a fun and talented group of girls. We only have a few girls with varsity experience so there is a lot of room for growth and we are excited about that,” said Monticello coach Kraig Black.
Another former Region 20 team, Milford, is the team to beat in the new Region 21. Coach Mallory Bailey said her team is still young but has some quality varsity experience.
Region 22 only has four teams this season, but the battle for the region title should be very competitive between Tabiona — the 1A runner-up from last season — and Rich.