ST. GEORGE — The Pine View boys basketball team is returning all five of their starters from last season, but that doesn’t mean they will have a cakewalk to another Region 9 title. Every team will come ready to play against them and they will for sure have a target on their back this year. For the girls team, they have some returning talent and depth but they will be a new looking team with head coach Ben Luce taking over the program.
Pine View girls basketball
The Panthers are coming off of a 8-13 overall record and a 5-7 record in region play. They did lose four seniors last season, but they are returning their top six scorers which include starting point guard Sophie Jensen, guard Alex Olson, junior Averi Papa, senior post player Laiani Tonga, junior Mady Jensen and senior Ellie Wilson.
Luce talked about how he stepped into a good position with an already deep roster. About half of the players listed above are juniors, which means that Luce will have time to build a program around some of the younger players while creating his own culture.
He coached boys basketball at Kanab for a while before taking a break. He eventually came back to coaching as an assistant for the girls team, becoming the head coach for a season before moving to take over the Pine View girls program. He has liked what he has seen out of his team in terms of work ethic, and his players also spoke highly of him.
“It’s been great,” Sophie Jensen said of their new head coach. “It’s been different from last year but a good change. He’s really good with us individually and as a team. He’s been a great fit for us.”
As it is with any new head coach, it will be a process but Luce seems to be on the right track. The energy in practice and his relationships with his players showed that he has already made a lot of progress on that front.
The depth the Panthers have will be a big advantage for them. They are filled with speedy guards as well as bigs who can play down low. They also have the ability to adapt to any playing style because their bigs can run the floor well.
“We’re looking deep and we’re looking versatile,” Luce said. “I can put a couple post players on the floor and play big if I want, I can spread it out and play small, regardless we’re getting up and down the floor pretty well. I feel like we can match up with just about anybody because we’re versatile.”
With that versatility and every player’s ability to score the ball, the Panthers will be able to expose mismatches on all fronts. They’ll adapt easily to every style of play in the region. Add in their depth and rotation, which will keep his players fresh and not fatigued, and they have a dangerous combination.
“We like to rebound and run, and you’ll see a lot of man-to-man defense,” Luce said. “We play best when we run, but we’ve got the versatility to match anybody’s tempo. We’d like to win the tempo game and play a little faster, but we can slow it down and bang with anybody.”
For Jensen, the returning starting point guard, she likes that versatility. It’s a huge plus for her to have bigs down low that she can put her trust in.
“We have four solid posts, so being able to give them the ball when they’re open and knowing that they’ll do something with it is big for a point guard,” Jensen said. “It’s good having them and then having shooters on the outside. We definitely have a lot of skill for each position.”
Luce knows they have scorers and experience, but his big philosophy is defense.
“First off I want us to be known as a good, solid, man-to-man defensive team,” Luce said. “It’s going to be hard to score, they’re going to have to execute their tails off. I’d like to be known for some defensive physicality and impenetrable man-to-man defense that gives teams fits.”
Pine View has started their non-region season 2-1 overall and play South Sevier Friday at 5:15 p.m. Their first region game will be against Desert Hills with a location not yet known as a result of the problems Desert Hills is having with their court.
Pine View boys basketball
For coach Ryan Eves and company there were no questions as to what their team would look like this season. Their five starters from last season were all juniors on the Region 9 championship team. Point guard Ryan Hopper, Jared Koller, Taiven Shepard, Jared Sudweeks and Michael Moore are all back for their senior seasons. Sudweeks was the Region 9 MVP last season and the other four all received all-region honors.
They are stacked with talent and experience, but Eves said that does not mean much to him if they don’t come back and work hard. Hard work has been the theme of their program and that doesn’t stop after winning a region championship.
“Our mentality is, we got to go to work,” Eves said. “We’ve got to outwork everybody in practices and games. Just like last year, we had a down year the year before so I don’t think people expected much but it’s a tough region this year.”
Last season they surprised most and flew under the radar a little bit before taking the championship. This year will be a little different. Instead of hunting down their competition, they are the hunted. Everyone will give them their best game, and in a very competitive region, they’ll have to bring it every single game.
“Last year no one really thought of us as number one in region, now this year everyone is out for us,” Koller said. “What I’ve heard, all the other teams think we’re overrated so I guess we’ll see what happens. I don’t think it’ll change anything, we’ll still play our game.”
Eves echoed the same sentiment, bringing up his team’s experience as a driving force behind their mentality. With that experience comes versatility. Every player on the Panthers has the ability to be a threat, even the bench players. The biggest thing for the Panthers will be trusting their teammates, which won’t be hard as most of their team has played with each other for four to five years.
“That’s something that we’ve been preaching,” Eves said. “Our expectation is to play for a state championship, but unless we trust in the younger guys and bring some guys off the bench that can contribute it’s not possible. You’ve got to have a few guys off the bench that you can trust and put in some big games.”
Senior Ryan Hopper expects to win another region title this season and characterized this year as the one they have all been waiting for. Having played with each other for so long, they all know each other’s tendencies, which will only help them when times get tough.
Eves said defense and unselfishness is what will set his team apart in a strong region, which Region 9 is this season.
“We’re going to play hard on defense and we’re going to share the ball on offense,” Eves said. “We’ve done a pretty good job of that and I think that’s really what our identity has been the last few years. I think we had five guys in double figures every game last year and defensively we were one of the best teams in the region just because they bought into playing hard.”
The Panthers are currently 1-1 with a tight one-point loss to the defending 4A state champions, Sky View. They are testing themselves in the preseason. Mix that in with region play and their strength of schedule is looking good for their RPI ranking.
They take on another 4A team in Ridgeline Friday on the road, with region play starting at home against Desert Hills on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.