ST. GEORGE — The Thunder squads for the 2021 Region 9 campaign have some strong parallels. Both have diverse rosters and can beat you in a variety of ways. Both bring in cores that saw a lot of playing time last season. Both got a transfusion of external talent with futures at the next level that make those groups even better.
Both have legitimate shots at Region 9 crowns and more.
A roster loaded with seniors, a fresh infusion of talent and a flawless preseason has the Thunder coming before the lightning for Desert Hills.
Mason Landdeck has shown he is worth the 4A level, transferring from Washington state to give himself the best odds to play a full senior season amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The two-time 1A first team All-State in the Evergreen State is a commit to Division I Eastern Washington.
On the preseason, Landdeck has averaged 21 points a game. He has yet to score fewer than 17. According to MaxPreps, he’s also dished out upward of six assists a game. His dribbling and speed give him plenty of opportunities to not only shoot, but dish to his teammates as well. He drives the paint early and often and draws plenty of fouls in the process. This sends him to the free-throw line, where he is near flawless. He’s landed 78% from the line this year.
While Landdeck may be the headliner, he joins an already impressive cast that is poised to jump from the bottom half of the Region 9 standings into its higher ranks.
“One of the nice things about this team is I think on different nights I think there’s going to be different guys that may score a little bit more,” Desert Hills head coach Chris Allred said. “There’s going to be some other guys out there that are going to have big nights as we go throughout the season.”
Eight seniors line the Thunder roster. They lost last season’s leading scorer Mason Chase to graduation but return four players that averaged more than 20 points a game as juniors: Peyton Holmes, Reggie Newby, Justin Judkins and Keegan Munson.
Holmes and Judkins are guards, Newby has moved into a forward and flex role and the 6’6” Munson holds down the post, slamming dunks and cleaning up rebounds. The big man is pivotal to the Thunder’s success even if he’s not going to lead the team in scoring on any given night in Allred’s mind.
“When you look at all the other things he does, he’s made the right play almost every time offensively,” he said. “Just being a defensive presence, he’s a big, big key to us and our success.”
The Thunder cruised through the preseason, winning all eight games. The closest a team got to them by the final horn was four on Dec. 4. Sky View took a 27-32 lead into the half but sent Landdeck to the free-throw line 16 times, 10 alone in the fourth quarter. He converted all of those last-stanza free throws to help secure the win.
They topped four teams from Region 8 in classification 5A. The closest any of them got was Payson on Dec. 18, losing by seven.
People are starting to take notice. Deseret News Preps named Desert Hills the top team in 4A as the preseason started to wind down.
It remains to be seen how the preseason success will translate in a highly competitive Region 9, but don’t be surprised to see the Thunder near or at the top when it’s all said and done.
The Desert Hills’ girls team got an addition of fresh talent to add to their core of their own, this one at the expense of another Region 9 team. The reinforcements come after Desert Hills finished second in the region behind an undefeated Cedar and an opportunity to claim the top spot this season.
The Thunder had some holes to fill after losing their top two scorers Kami Bliss and Sydney Peisley to graduation. They had a solid core still intact, with some juniors and sophomores playing large roles. Enid Vaifanua transferred from Dixie for her junior season, giving the Thunder just another legitimate scoring option for Ron Denos.
Junior Julia Jacobsen has led the way in the post, taking on a primary scoring role for the Thunder in the preseason. Her 6-foot height gives her an advantage over a good portion of opponents she’ll match up with as the season progresses. Through six games, she led the team with 75 points, all coming from inside the arc.
Vaifanua and senior Shailee Bundy both had more than 60 at that point. Vaifanua has thus far been the team’s primary shooter from the perimeter, accounting for half of the team’s 3-pointers.
Bundy and Sa’de Turlington have been two-way weapons, loading up on defensive rebounds while adding points. Turlington has also been the primary distributor, racking up nearly five assists a game.
Junior Olivia Cluff, a transfer from Tooele, was productive when on the court, but has only played two games and hasn’t since Dec. 5.
“I’ve got the right pieces, we’ve just got to be able to put them all together,” Denos said.
Desert Hills started the preseason with a pair of dominant wins hosting 5A Salem Hills and 3A Richfield before dropping close contests to 6A Jordan and 3A Carbon, who went 7-1 in pre-region. The first loss was decided by six points, the second by five. Jacobsen was limited to just four points in each.
With new pieces filtering in both via transfer and up from junior varsity to fill in gaps on the bench, there is some learning to be done with the system, with each other and in general. The team is young: Bundy is the lone senior in the starting rotation.
“I’m lucky because I have a lot of girls that have pretty good basketball IQs,” Denos said. “That goes a long way. When I’m talking to them, they know exactly what it is and they can fix it.”
A Region 9 crown could be on the table for Desert Hills this season with some breaks. But it won’t be this group’s only shot, with their core intact for the 2022 campaign as well.
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