Team-by-team preview: A closer look at Region 9 girls basketball

Desert Hills vs. Cedar, Girls Basketball, St. George, Utah, Jan. 26, 2017, | Photo by Robert Hoppie,, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – Region 9 teams have started their seasons. It should be an entertaining year. There are four new head coaches that will likely bring differing philosophies, even though three of the coaches were assistants under the previous head coach. Corry Nielson (Cedar), Jaycee Slack-Barnhurst (Canyon View) and Ryan Rarick (Snow Canyon) all have paid their dues as assistants. The anomaly is Coach Ryan Forsey at Dixie. But Forsey is well-know in Flyer athletics. He has assisted on the boys side under Ryan Cuff for the past few years.The other three coaches are in their fourth year. Hurricane’s Franci Homer and Pine View’s Chris Brinagh started at the same time while Desert Hills’ Ron Denos began the same year mid-season.

There is a lot of excitement based on the amount of talent that has returned from last year. No less than five different players received votes for player of the year. The award went to Pine View’s Claire Newby in the closest voting in several years. The preseason rankings also were a tight race. Hurricane edged Cedar and Pine View for the top spot by two points. All three received first-place votes. Snow Canyon and Desert Hills were not far behind. Dixie and Canyon View were the final two, undoubtedly positioned there due to their youth and inexperience. Below are team capsules based on interviews held with each head coach:

Coach: Jaycee Slack-Barnhurst (1st year)
Assistant Coaches: Jamie Smith, Amy Blackner
2016-17 Record: 5-17
Key Losses: Morgan Cheney, Amber Francisco, Alycia Flores, Yanaba Oshley, Rachel Lusk
Frontcourt: Ashlyn Wadsworth (JR, 5’9) and Cristal Elias (SR, 5’8) are the likely starters. Sisters Bryn Banks (SR, 5’8) and Ashlyn Banks (SO, 5’9) will also see playing time.

Canyon View’s Jordan Nielson (5), Dixie vs. Canyon View, Girls Basketball, St. George, Utah, Dec. 20, 2016, | Photo by Robert Hoppie,, St. George News

Backcourt: The Lady Falcons will employ a three-guard lineup. Jordan Nielson (JR, 5’5) returns the only experience and will likely be the primary ball handler. Team captain Natallie Garrett (SR, 5’10) will play the wing, while team captain Brielle Fullmer (SR, 5’3) is a combo guard.
Offense: Full or Half Court: “We obviously would like to get more baskets in transition. We will have a definite size disadvantage against the other region teams. We will have to offset that with our team speed.”
Defense: Zone or Man-to-Man: “It really depends on the matchups. We will probably utilize zone more due to our lack of size and experience. We have emphasized the little things to offset our lack of size, like blocking out and help-side defense.”
One word to describe your team: “Hard-working. Our girls know that we enter the season with the least amount of returning experience and size. They know that they have to work hard. That has been their focus from day one. They have been putting in extra work.”
OUTLOOK: Canyon View returns to Region 9 after a brief hiatus. But while almost every other region team returns the bulk of their experience, the Falcons graduated six seniors and another player, Malia Vasi, had elected not to play this year. That leaves only Jordan Nielson, whose experience last year as a sophomore was extremely limited. Canyon View was picked to finish at the bottom in the preseason poll. This will be more of a rebuilding year for the new head coach.

Corry Nielsen (1st year)
Assistant Coaches: Mark Esplin, Tammy Shugart
2016-17 Record: 18-7
Key Losses: Lindsey Robinson, Courtnie Lamb, Maisie Elison, Sara Pearson
Frontcourt: Team captain and preseason all-region 1st teamer Carley Davis (SR, 5’10) is a threat both offensively and defensively in the post. She has also developed a mid-range jumper. Bailee Fielding (JR, 5’10) saw limited action last year but will step into a starting role. The other frontcourt starting position has been a preseason battle among Sage Oldroyd (SR, 5’9), Lexi Williams (SR, 5’8) and Emeline Brower (SO, 5’6). Whichever two do not start will likely see plenty of playing time.

Cedar’s Dream Weaver (00), Desert Hill vs. Cedar, 3A State Girls Basketball, Logan, Utah, Feb. 25, 2017, | Photo by Robert Hoppie,, St. George News

Backcourt: The Weaver sisters are both preseason all-region and will start in the backcourt with the taller one, Japrix (SO, 6’1) as the primary ballhandler. Team captain and region 1st team performer Dream (SR, 5’10) will start at the off-guard. Senior Brooke Shoop will also see extended time in relief in the backcourt.
Offense: Full or Half Court: “We will be up-tempo from the opening tip to the final whistle. We hope to get most of our offense through fast breaks off turnovers or even on made baskets.”
Defense: Zone or Man-to-Man: “We will employ some full-court and half-court presses, but we will employ man-to-man about 80 percent of the time.
One word to describe your team: “Toughness. The girls hate to lose. They are competitive. When they get beat off the dribble they take it personally. They take it as a personal challenge. That makes their defense tougher.”
OUTLOOK: Cedar finished second in the region last year but was the last Region 9 team standing in the state tournament. Carley Davis, Dream and Japrix Weaver all made the preseason Region 9 teams. They play well together. Cedar finished tied for second in the preseason poll with Pine View. But they also received three first-place votes. Coach Nielson is new as a head coach but brings over 20 years experience as an assistant. Look for the Lady Reds to challenge for the region championship and repeat their advancement into the state tournament.

desert hills high school sportsDESERT HILLS
Coach: Ron Denos (4th year)
Assistant Coaches: Kacee McArthur, Laurie Goulding
2016-17 Record: 21-4
Key Losses: Ashley Beckstrand, Morgan Myers, Taylor Salisbury, Megan Wiscombe, Ellyn Williams, Samantha Crane (injury)
Frontcourt: The Thunder return Jess Bills (SR), who saw plenty of action when the team had injuries the last two years. Joining her as a starter will be Annie Frame (SR, 5’11). Kelli Nance (JR, 5’11) will back up both of them.

Desert Hills’ Jessica Mathis (4), Desert Hills vs. Juan Diego, Girl’s Basketball, St. George, Utah, Dec. 3, 2016, | Photo by Megan Hoppie,, St. George News

Backcourt: Preseason all-region performers and team captains Madi Clark (SR, 5’10) and Jess Mathis (SR, 5’8) will start. Clark, who was recently named Region 9 Player of the Year in volleyball, is a good shooter with excellent court vision. Mathis is a good ball handler that can get to the basket or pull up for the jumper. They will be joined by Kylie Westhoff (SR, 5’6) as starter at the wing. Victoria Crosby (SR, 5’3) and Katelyn Philips (JR, 5’7) will also be in the backcourt rotation.
Offense: Full or Half Court: “We are always running. We are not as skilled or experienced as we were last year, but we are quicker. And longer. We will create problems for teams in the full court.”
Defense: Zone or Man-to-Man: “We will utilize both, but we will play man much more than we played it last year.”
One word to describe your team: “Athletic. Our players are vey agile and have tremendous speed. They will get after people this year.
OUTLOOK: The Thunder join Canyon View as the only team with significant losses from last year’s roster. Desert Hills lost the Region Co-Players of the year in Beckstrand and Myers, who are both playing collegiately now. And Williams, Salisbury and Wiscombe were as good as any other frontcourt last year. However, unlike the Falcons, they do bring back experience. Clark, Mathis and Bills all played extensively last year and saw action as sophomores as well. Unfortunately, the team suffered a blow in tryouts when Samantha Crane was lost to injury. The Thunder were picked to finish fifth in the preseason poll, likely because the four teams in front of them had fewer losses. That preseason ranking will likely put a chip on their shoulders. They now have something to prove.

Ryan Forsey (1st year)
Assistant Coaches: Katie Woods, Mindy Barker
2016-17 Record: 6-14
Key Losses: Kelsea Barker, Aspen Bair, Ilah Wallace, Grace Killian
Frontcourt: The Flyers are loaded in the frontcourt. Emily Lemke (SR, 6’2) and Sina Tapasa (JR, 6’0) are both formidable presences. Sophomores Macee McAllister (5’9) and Breezie Fakatoumafi (5’9) also saw plenty of experience last year. Abi Finlinson (5’8) is coming off injury and will see more time as she returns to full strength.

Dixie’s Breezie Fakatoumafi (11), Dixie vs. Canyon View, Girls Basketball, St. George, Utah, Dec. 20, 2016, | Photo by Robert Hoppie,, St. George News

Backcourt: Sophomores Sina Schwalger (5’2) and team captain Jocelyn Bundy (5’2) will start. They provide a good mix with Schwalger better at getting to the basket and Bundy hitting the pull-up jumper. Mel Alo (SO, 5’9) will get the other starting position and is just as comfortable in the post. Also seeing time will be the Oliva sisters, team captain Karla (SR, 5’4) and Andrea (SR, 5’4) and Greydi Gomez (JR, 5’2)
Offense: Full or Half Court: “We are still trying to learn our personnel. I believe we have a good mix of quickness and power. Our goal is to be able to play both proficiently.”
Defense: Zone or Man-to-Man: “We will employ both. We plan to mix it up and force other teams to adjust to us. We will lean on defense initially to establish our identity.”
One word to describe your team: “Eager. The girls are eager to learn. They are eager to play. They are eager to do things the right way. We are excited. We plan to build off that positivity and compete in a very competitive region.”
OUTLOOK: Coach Forsey did not inherit an empty cupboard. Schwalger, McAllister, Fakatamoufi and Bundy all started and saw experience as freshmen. Throw in Alo, Tapasa and Lemke up front and with time this could be a very dangerous team. How quickly can they master the new offensive schemes? How quickly can they meld together as a unit at both ends of the court? The Flyers were picked sixth in the region, but Coach Forsey hopes he has the tools to progress further.

Coach: Franci Homer (4th year)
Assistant Coaches: Sally Stevens, Mark Christensen
2016-17 Record: 12-11
Key Losses: Lexy Lyons (injury)
Frontcourt: Alexa Christensen (SR, 5’10) and Hailey Homer (JR, 5’11) combine to form a potent low-post, high-post weapon. Homer has a good mid-range jumper and Christensen is a monster in the post. Lexy Lyons was lost to injury. That opens up more time for Tylee Brisk (SR, 5’11) and Kelbie Dayley (SR, 5’7).

Hurricane’s Jayden Langford (11), St. George, Utah, Feb. 9, 2017, | Photo by Robert Hoppie,, St. George News

Backcourt: Kylee Stevens (SR, 5’5) will return at point. She has to be happy to have preseason all-region performers Jayden Langford (SR, 5’6) and Madi Hirschi (JR, 5’7) at her wings. Halli Gubler (SR, 5’2) and Kailee Yardley (JR, 5’5) will also see extensive playing time in the backcourt.
Offense: Full or Half Court: “We will transition at every opportunity. But we have the tools to also compete in the half court.”
Defense: Zone or Man-to-Man: “We want to stay tight-lipped on what we plan to do. But we are comfortable with either.”
One word to describe your team: “Determined. I am not going to tell you what they are, but we have set some team goals and the girls have also set individual goals. Since the end of last season, the girls have developed a focus and have worked very hard to achieve these goals.”
OUTLOOK: Coach Homer has been looking forward to this year. The starting unit has been unchanged the last two years and the Tigers have matured both physically and with experience. Though Hurricane was picked to win the region, Coach Homer noted that selection was hardly definitive. She said the Tigers will continue to play as the underdog. Barring injury however, the Tigers are the favorite to win the region.

Chris Brinagh (4th year)
Assistant Coaches: Sonny Schuler, Velma Cook
2016-17 Record: 7-11
Key Losses: Bailia Milne (decided to focus on golf)
Frontcourt: The Panthers will start sophomores Leiani Tonga (5’10) and Maycee Hayes (5’7). Tonga brings size and low-post tenacity. Hayes is smaller, more cerebral, with good outside capability. Bailey Hofheins (JR, 5’10) and Rachel Prior (SR, 5’10) will also log considerable time in the frontcourt.

Pine View’s Saraven Allen (3), Pine View vs. Millard, Girl’s Basketball, St. George, Utah, Nov. 22, 2016, | Photo by Robert Hoppie,, St. George News

Backcourt: Coach Brinagh has the interchangeable three-headed monster in the backcourt. Claire Newby (SR, 5’9) is the Region 9 preseason POY. Saraven Allen (SR, 5’6) and Dawn Mead (SR, 5’6) also received preseason honors. Newby and Allen can get to the basket with ease. Mead is a deadly shot on the perimeter. All three can handle the ball. Haylee Graff (SO, 5’9) is still recuperating from injury and will likely not see playing time till later in the season. Sophia Jensen (SO, 5’4), a move-in, will see time as a reserve.
Offense: Full or Half Court: “Due to our coaching philosophy, we get a high percentage of our baskets off turnovers in the full court. Ideally, that will continue this year. But we also have the experience and personnel to be effective in the half court.”
Defense: Zone or Man-to-Man: “We have a lot of zone presses, both in the full court and half court. But we love to play man-to-man as well. We will come after you defensively.”
One word to describe your team: “Toughness. Our girls compete to the end. We may not be the most talented team, but we are the toughest and I will take tough any day.”
OUTLOOK: While Pine View did not lose anyone to graduation, Milne and Graff (in the early going) are still significant losses. Milne started and Coach Brinagh believes Graff can be a future POY in Region 9. But Pine View still rivals Hurricane with arguably the best backcourt in the region. Brinagh is also excited with the incoming freshman class. As many as four could be on the varsity roster later in the season. Pine View tied with Cedar for second in the region preseason poll. But not much distance separated the top three teams. Brinagh himself said the region was so balanced that five teams had a shot at the region title. The Panthers are always going to give you tough, scrappy defense. How well they perform on the offensive end will determine where they finish.

snow canyon athleticsSNOW CANYON
Coach: Ryan Rarick (1st year)
Assistant Coaches: Kyle Jones, Chad Bouwhuis
2016-17 Record: 11-11
Key Losses: Lindsy McConnell, Jasmine Lealao (transfer)
Frontcourt: Preseason all-region performer Melenaite Kata (SR, 6’1) will man the low post. Returning starter Allie Parr (SR, 6’0) will complement her in the high post. Alivia Hinton (SR, 5’9), Rachel Durante (SO, 5’8) and Sammi Johnston (JR, 5’10) can play in the post and on the wing interchangeably.

Snow Canyon’s Melenaite Kata (35) and Hurricane’s Madi Hirschi (33), Snow Canyon vs. Hurricane, Girls Basketball, St. George, Utah, Feb. 9, 2017, | Photo by Robert Hoppie,, St. George News

Backcourt: Tylei Jensen (SO, 5’4) was selected to the preseason all-region 1st team. She will team up with Natalie Gunn (SR, 5’6) and Hallie Remund (SO, 5’8). Coach Rarick started the season with Brielle Hoskins (SR, 5’5) and Olivia Harris (SO, 5’7) sitting with injury. Hoskins will likely claim a starter position when healthy, while Harris will be a key backup to Jensen.
Offense: Full or Half Court: “We like to play transition basketball. We believe we have the personnel to press in the full court and maintain that pressure throughout the game. But we also have good post players and perimeter shooters to run our half-court sets effectively.”
Defense: Zone or Man-to-Man: “We prefer to play man-to-man. We may go to zone occasionally if the situation requires it. Sometimes match-up problems or foul trouble will necessitate a zone defense.”
One word to describe your team: “Progressing. We have made massive strides early in the year. We have a good mix of experienced players, but our primary contributors are very young. They are skilled, but lack experience. But more coaching and game-time experience will help develop play and decision making.”
OUTLOOK: The Warriors were picked to finish fourth in the region preseason poll. Their loss to Enterprise in the early season exemplifies Rarick’s concerns. Foul trouble for Jensen turned a 13-point lead into a 12-point loss. The return of Hoskins and Harris will likely dissipate the team reliance on Jensen. But it is that kind of decision-making that Rarick spoke of that has to sharpen. The good players need to be able to stay on the floor when needed. The Warriors are the most enigmatic team of the top five. They could win region, or they could also be out of the playoffs with a fifth-place finish. Snow Canyon will get solid play from Jensen and the posts. The wild card will be the wing players. How well will Hoskins, Remond and Gunn perform? If they have a good year, the Warriors finish high.

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