Cedar, D-Hills hope to keep the girls 3A trophy in southern Utah

Desert Hills Thunder State Champions-3A State Championships, Cedar City, Utah, Mar. 1, 2014 | Photo by Robert Hoppie, St. George News

WEST VALLEY CITY — The 3A Girls Basketball Championship trophy must have quite a tan line by now. And maybe an accent, too. After all, it’s been living in southern Utah for three straight years.

Region 9 champ Cedar and runner-up Desert Hills hope to keep it there, too. Starting this afternoon, the two southern Utah teams will have three days to make it happen.

Cedar, 19-3 and ranked No. 2 by the Salt Lake media, will go first, battling Morgan in a quarterfinal match-up that starts at 5:50 p.m. The Lady Thunder, 15-7 and ranked No. 5, will take to the court at the Maverik Center right after the Lady Reds. D-Hills will face No. 1 Juan Diego at 7:30 p.m. The other two quarterfinal games have Carbon against Stansbury (4:30 p.m.) and Bear River vs. Juab in the late game at 9:10 p.m.

Ashley Beckstrand (24), file photo from North Sanpete vs. Desert Hills, Girls Basketball, St. George,  Utah, Feb. 21, 2015 | Photo by Rober Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News
Ashley Beckstrand (24), file photo from North Sanpete vs. Desert Hills, Girls Basketball, St. George, Utah, Feb. 21, 2015 | Photo by Rober Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News

Desert Hills is the defending champion and the Thunder will always have that 2014 trophy in their hall of fame. But the girls trophy has spent a lot of time in southern Utah lately. Dixie won it all in 2013 and Snow Canyon took the title in 2012.

But, perhaps as a testament to the life-consuming nature of the coaching business, none of the aforementioned teams has the same head coach that led them to the title. Neither does last year’s runner-up, Morgan. In fact, the most amazing fact about the eight teams remaining in the 3A Tournament may be that five of the eight teams have coaches in their third year or fewer as a head coach, and three of those coaches are in their rookie seasons.

So how will that affect the tourney? It’s hard to say for sure, but experience must count for something, right?

Cedar coach John Elison, the aged veteran among the group, had his team into the semifinals last year. And with all his starters back from that team that eventually fell in the semis to Desert Hills, Elison knows this is the time to shine.

“We’ve been building toward this time of year,” he said. “Hopefully we’re peaking. There are some good teams from up north, but we feel we’re pretty good as well.”

Courtney Morley (23) saves a ball for the Lady Reds, Cedar vs. Dixie, Girls Basketball,  St. George, Utah, Jan. 13, 2015 | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News
Courtney Morley (23), file photo from Cedar vs. Dixie, Girls Basketball, St. George, Utah, Jan. 13, 2015 | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News

Cedar, led by Courtney Morley (12.6 ppg) and a supporting cast of Shana Foley, Javlyn Weaver and others, played the best defense in 3A in 2014-15, allowing just 38.0 points a game. The Lady Reds, who went 12-0 in Region 9, needed that defense to squeeze past Richfield 40-38 in the first round. Now they face a different challenge in trying to slow down one of the best offenses in the state in Morgan.

The Lady Trojans are led by Alli Tonks, who is among the state leaders in scoring (12.0 ppg), assists (3.4 apg) and steals (2.3 spg). But Morgan also features two other capable scorers in Savanna Brooks (10.0 ppg) and Lily Henry (9.9 ppg), plus several other scorers at about eight per game. MHS loves to press and run and their 60.6 ppg is second in 3A. Morgan beat Tooele 78-67 in the first round.

The only team scarier to stop than Morgan is Juan Diego. The Soaring Eagle average 67.9 points a game, a full 10 points a game more than Desert Hills.

But even though the Soaring Eagle score a lot, are undefeated and even beat 5A champion Brighton earlier this season, it would be a mistake to mail off the trophy already.

“We look at it and think, ‘You know, why not us?’”  Desert Hills star Ashley Beckstrand said. “Why not? We’re just going to give it everything we’ve got and go full force and we’ll see what we can do.”

Beckstrand and teammate Kenzie Done should know what it takes to win it all. Both carved out significant minutes on last season’s championship team, despite being (at the time) a freshman and a sophomore on a team with seven seniors.

“More than anything, along with the experience we have, is knowing how to control the emotions,” Beckstrand said. “It’s so easy to get caught up and get upset at the refs or the parents from the other team. I think that’s what me and Kenzie (Done) can bring, just ‘Hey, we’ve got to tune them out, stay together.’ Stick together as a team and we can do great things.”

Shana Foley with a layup, file photo from Cedar vs. Snow Canyon, Girls Basketball, St. George, Utah, Feb. 3, 2015 | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News
Shana Foley with a layup, file photo from Cedar vs. Snow Canyon, Girls Basketball, St. George, Utah, Feb. 3, 2015 | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News

Beckstrand, who leads 3A in scoring at 21.2 ppg, will need help from Done (11.9 ppg), Kylie Williams (8.8 ppg) and the rest of the D-Hills roster if the Thunder are going to hand Juan Diego its first loss. The Soaring Eagle is 22-0 and hasn’t even had a close game since the preseason. A 10-point victory at Morgan on Feb. 3 is as close as any team has gotten since the Brighton game in November.

Juan Diego has a pair of high-scoring sisters in Monique Mills (18.3 ppg) and Dominique Mills (17.2 ppg). The senior pair were on the JD team that couldn’t get out of the first round of the playoffs last season. They also get help from Becca Curran (9.1 ppg) and Ann Marie Nelson (6.6 ppg). All can shoot the 3 and the team has buried 106 deep balls this season. In contrast, Beckstrand has 51 of her own, but the rest of the Thunder squad has just 27 combined.

It’s a new season, with new coaches and new faces, but teams from the south should feel confident, even with the high-scoring Soaring Eagle and Trojans. After all, defense is the mantra in southern Utah, and it has worked for the past three seasons.

Interestingly enough, the northern media has picked Juan Diego and Morgan to meet for the 3A title, which essentially dictates that Morgan and Juan Diego will win today.

It will come down to turnovers. Both Juan Diego and Morgan predicate their success on forcing them, creating open court one on one situations and converting easy baskets. If Cedar and Desert Hills can take care of the ball, they’ve got the defenses to bring the trophy to the south once again.

Watch for stories, photos and video from the 3A Tournament right here on STGNews.com.

The games will be streamed live at http://sportsradio1061.com.

3A Girls Basketball Championship bracket

Email: sports@stgnews.com

Twitter: @oldschoolag

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