With the high school basketball season tipping off this week, there’s a feeling of excitement and belief across the state — and for good reason.
The number of legitimate region and state title contenders appears to be greater than ever from 6A through 1A.
Since Lone Peak won four straight 5A titles from 2011 to 2014, it’s been harder and harder for teams to repeat as state champion. Of the 21 state champions the past fours years, only four were repeat winners.
That could again be the case as Olympus (5A) and Panguitch (1A) are the only defending state champions who begin the year ranked No. 1 in their respective classification.
Here’s a class-by-class look at the upcoming season and what to expect from the top contenders.
In the state’s largest classification, continuity might be what finally pushes Pleasant Grove toward its first state championship since 1961.
The Vikings were close last year, but it could never get over the hump against rival Lone Peak losing twice in region play and then again in the state championship.
Pleasant Grove returns four starters back from that team, including 7-foot-4 Ute commit Matt Van Komen, while Lone Peak returns zero starters and has a new head coach as well in long-time assistant Robert Ross.
“We return 83 percent of our offense this season and a pretty good rim protector on defense. With a good mix of senior leadership and young talent, we are excited to play a tough preseason schedule and compete in a challenging Region 4,” said Pleasant Grove coach Randy McAllister.
The Vikings begin the season ranked No. 1 in 6A after receiving the vast majority of first-place votes in the Deseret News preseason coaches poll.
Region foes Lone Peak and American Fork were pegged second and third in 6A, while Davis and Copper Hills round out the top five.
Even though Lone Peak lacks returning starter experience, Jaxon Pollard returns and there are high expectations for the senior after he came on late last season for the Knights. He scored 13 points off the bench in the championship game win against Pleasant Grove.
“We have a group of hard-working, skilled young men who look to compete on this year’s team. We look forward to an exciting season,” said Ross.
American Fork also has a new head coach this season as Ryan Cuff takes over as head coach after coaching at Dixie High School for 10 years. His teams were always among the most defensive-minded teams in his old region, and he has a quality foundation to build on as Isaac Johnson and Trey Stewart are both returning starters.
“We are excited to see what we can do together. We love this team and we are having a lot of fun. We feel our schedule will prepare us for what is in front of us,” said Cuff.
Copper Hills was a semifinalist a year ago, and with four returning starters the Grizzlies should be right in the thick of the 6A race again this year. Big man Trevon Allfrey averaged 18.9 ppg as a junior and should be an even bigger force this season.
Davis is the front-runner in Region 1 as coach Chad Sims’ team returns a pair of starters, seniors Tyson Garff and Brendon Redford.
In Region 2 only Cyprus returns more than one starter this season, but the coaches still tabbed Kearns as the team to beat.
Not surprisingly, the coaches pegged defending champion Olympus as the team to beat in 5A as the Titans return their top two scorers from a year ago. The uncertainty after Rylan Jones and Jeremy Dowdell, however, gives the rest of the classification hope.
Last season the Titans were an absolute juggernaut, a run-and-gun team that put on a show whenever they stepped on the court. They finished with a perfect 27-0 record and an average margin of victory of 27.4.
Dowdell and Ute commit Jones combined to average 39 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists last year, which coach Matt Barnes acknowledges is a luxury to have back.
“They are both pretty good to start with but we will have to find some new guys to fill the roles vacated by all the senior players. We have a great group of kids ready to step up and take over. I am really looking forward to coaching this team,” said Barnes.
In the playoffs, Olympus won all four games by 27-plus points, including a 76-49 win over Corner Canyon. The teams could be on another collision course this season.
The Chargers return three starters from a year ago and check in at No. 2 in the preseason coaches poll.
“Should have a solid returning group of players. Should be strong defensively and be able to execute on offense,” said Corner Canyon coach Dan Lunt.
Olympus and Corner Canyon will get an early glimpse at each other when they square off in the Utah Elite 8 tournament at American Fork on Dec. 6.
Rounding out the top five in 5A is Bountiful, Timpanogos and Skyridge. Bountiful and Timpanogos were both semifinalists a year ago.
With four returning starters, Bountiful is the front-runner in both Region 5 but a legit contender in 5A with Brig Willard, Isaac Kime and Cam Chism all returning.
“I really like our team. Great senior leadership. Willing learners. They seem to get along and genuinely like each other. Could be a pretty good year,” said Maxwell.
Despite its top five preseason ranking, Timpanogos only returns one starter and might get off to a slow start. The talent is there, and once the new players get things figured out the T-Wolves will be the favorite in Region 8.
Skyridge and Timpview were neck and neck in the voting for the preseason No. 5 spot. Both return three starters and have the potential to make some noise this season.
If the coaches' preseason voting is any indicator, expect the 4A classification to by hotly contested yet again this season.
Orem narrowly edged Juan Diego and Sky View in the preseason voting, with all three garnering multiple first-place votes from coaches.
Orem will lean on returning starters Puka Nacua and Ike Richards. The Tigers shared the Region 10 title with Salem Hills a year ago, but it was Salem Hills that went on to win the state title.
The defending champion Skyhawks only return one starter though and begin the season ranked 5th in 4A just behind Desert Hills.
With three straight runner-up finishes in state championship games, Juan Diego has the talent again to compete for a state title, and perhaps clear that final hurdle.
“Although we lost a lot to graduation, we do return one of the state’s best players in Raimoana Tinirauarii and one of the state’s best shooters in Lawson Roe. We have some really good young talent that will need to step up and adjust to the varsity game quickly,” said Juan Diego coach Drew Trost.
Juan Diego went undefeated in Region 11 last year with a 12-0 record and a 25-point average margin of victory.
While Juan Diego should roll to the region title, down in Southern Utah, it’s anyone's taking. Four different teams received first-place votes in the Region 9 coaches poll, and with two new coaches, nobody really knows quite what to expect.
Tyler Roberts takes over as head coach at Dixie while Doug Meacham takes over as head coach at Snow Canyon after a successful stint at American Fork.
“The biggest question is will we commit to playing solid team defense on every possession. There are some solid and well-coached teams in this region and it will be fun night in and night out,” said Meacham, who coached at American Fork for 16 years.
Cedar has the most returning experience in Region 9, and with this year’s 4A state tournament taking place at Southern Utah in Cedar City, the team knows the potential exists for a special season.
Up North in Region 12, Sky View headlines a strong group of contenders that includes Logan and Green Canyon.
Sky View is led by junior Ute commit Mason Falslev, who averaged 20.5 ppg last season.
“Sky View is returning 3 starters that all played an important role in our success last season. I am excited for this group this year, they are energetic and very hungry ready to get the season started,” said Sky View coach Kirk Hillyard.
Second-year school Green Canyon could be the sleeper team in 4A as it returns all five starters, including Carter Berish who averaged 18.1 ppg a year ago.
You know it’s a balanced classification when defending state champion Manti didn’t even crack the coaches preseason top five rankings.
The preseason bull’s-eye this year centers on Morgan, which should be able to hit the ground running with three returning starters led by Trey Miles who averaged 14.2 ppg a year ago.
“Senior leadership and the ability of this team to play together will determine their success. The potential for this team is high with a strong senior class and talent from the younger grades combined together,” said Morgan coach Brad Matthews.
Morgan bowed out of the playoffs a year ago in the quarterfinals to Manti, who is a bit of a rebuilding mode with zero returning starters.
That’s not an issue with the rest of the preseason top five teams after Morgan. The voting between No. 2 Delta, No. 3 South Sevier, No. 4 Richfield and No. 5 Emery was really tight, and it makes sense because they all return multiple starters.
Richfield returns all five of its starters from last season, while Delta returns three starters including junior guard Derek Smith who ranked third in 3A last year averaging 19.2 ppg.
Emery also returns three starters, as Kyson Stilson, Cade Brazier and Brax Jensen all averaged in double figures last season.
“We have a very good shooting team. No size. Good quickness. We plan on shooting a lot of threes this year,” said Emery coach Todd Jeffs.
South Sevier was the runner-up to Manti a year ago, and even though its top three scorers graduated, Kaetz King and Peydon Wood are ready to take on larger roles this season
A talented group of seniors helped power Beaver to the surprise 2A state championship a year ago, but repeating will be extremely difficult for the Beavers.
Senior Preston Roberts is the lone starter back for Beaver, and coach Joe Hillock said his young team needs to grow up in a hurry to simply compete in Region 18.
“Our region is always the toughest in 2A,” said Hillock.
Even though Region 18 is talented top to bottom, Region 16 could be the most talented top with preseason No. 1 Layton Christian and preseason No. 3 Duchesne both hailing from that region.
Layton Christian was the 2A state tourney favorite a year ago before being bounced by Beaver in the semifinals. Three of Layton Christian’s top scorers from that team are back, led by Lino Saez, Micah Petty and Sam Muller.
Parowan was tabbed by the coaches as the preseason No. 2 team in 2A, but it will take a while for the injury-riddled Rams to compete at full strength.
“We are very young and have four starters out with injuries. It should be very good for some of our other players to get some good minutes and hopefully make us deeper when everyone heals up. I look forward to a fun year and would like nothing more than to make some noise at the end of the season,” said Parowan coach Lance Stubbs.
Rowland Hall is the clear favorite in Region 17 this season, and it has the depth and experience to compete for the big prize in 2A as well under first-year coach Zack Alvidrez. The Winged Lions return three starters and five players who averaged over five points per game.
The 1A state title game was an all-Region 20 affair last year, and Manila hopes to break up that monopoly this season.
Three of the top four teams in the preseason coaches 1A rankings are from Region 20, with Manila the lone outsider checking in at No. 3
With four returning starters, the Mustangs hope to take the next step as a program after reaching the semifinals a year ago led by Jordan Lucio and Garrett Potter.
The favorites, however, still call Region 20 home.
Panguitch has won back-to-back 1A state titles after a 16-year drought and begins the year as the preseason No. 1 despite returning just one starter.
Senior Acey Orton is that one starter, and he’s the perfect player to try and build a team around.
“We are excited about the upcoming season. This group has worked hard during the offseason to improve in all areas of the game. We lack a lot of experience, but we expect to get better each week. By the end of the season, we hope we have improved enough to contend for another title,” said Panguitch coach Clint Barney.
Valley checks in at No. 2 in the preseason rankings with four returning starters, led by seniors Orrin Wood, Cameron Franklin and Kyson Spencer.Comment on this story
“We are very excited about this upcoming season. With four returning starters, senior leadership and great size, we feel we can be very competitive this season. Region 20 is a very tough region to play in which will test our team early, but we look forward to getting better each week,” said Owen Hoyt.
Bryce Valley and Rich round at the preseason top five.
Bryce Valley has two starters back from last year’s 1A runner-up team, and like his peer at Valley, Bryce Valley coach Gary Syrett believes playing in the extremely tough Region 20 prepares teams for the grind of the playoffs.