ST. GEORGE — The Pine View Panthers are a tale of two teams.
The girls team is the favorite to win Region 9 with a core that has already established success. The boys team lost a lot of its talent from last year and is trying to figure out how to put their pieces together and find a winning combination.
Here are the previews for Pine View basketball:
Pine View has some work to do getting up to speed. The Panthers lost all five starters from a 9-5 club a season ago and have slowly had to put the pieces together almost from scratch. Between COVID-19 pauses and long runs for some of their players also on the football team, it was slow-going in the preseason as head coach Ryan Eves tinkered and plotted to try to rebuild a team that finished third in Region 9 a season ago.
“We just got to battle,” Eves said. “I think we’ll surprise some people. We will. We’ll play hard.”
The Panthers went 1-5 in the preseason, finally collecting their first win against class 5A Springville on Dec. 19, defeating another winless team to wrap up non-Region play. A couple of their quintet of losses were close, most noteworthy a 48-47 drop against 5A Cottonwood on Dec. 9. They also dropped their preseason opener to Sky View in a football state championship rematch, featuring football players like Marcus and Dominique McKenzie on the Panthers side and Kason Carlsen and Issac Larsen for Sky View.
The core is built around the trio that saw some minutes last year: junior Bensen Shepherd and seniors Justin Hall and Lucca Mamone. Another senior, Joshua Bice, will hold down the post. Hall has been the primary distributor with an ability to shoot, more often than not finding Shepherd in the early going. Mamone, the size of a forward, was banged up last season and has dealt with some injuries in the preseason and has played on the wing to stay out of the post.
For a team that has struggled to score, Shepherd has led the way, averaging 11.6 points through the six preseason games. Bice is second with 9.5.
Defensively, they’ve held pace with Region 9 foes. They lost 64-41 to 5A Payson in their third game. Payson scored 63 on Crimson Cliffs, 62 on Desert Hills and 62 on Cedar. Manti scored 60 on Pine View but 70 on Crimson Cliffs in its next game.
It’s simply a matter of figuring out the offense, which Eves said might have reinforcements on the way in the form of the McKenzie twins — Dominique and Marcus — two speed demons that will open up more opportunities for the shooters and make the transition game more dynamic. They both were on the football team, which ended its season on Nov. 21 in the midst of the activities shutdown due to COVID-19.
They aren’t fully up to speed yet, but Eves thinks they’ll both be difference makers when they are.
“They just bring energy and effort and a competitiveness in practice,” Eves said. “They’ll get there. They’re trying to figure it out. They’re trying to find out how they can help the team. You give them another month with a ball in their hands a little bit, they’re scary. They’re some of the fastest guys in the state of Utah.”
The Panthers progressively improved over the course of the preseason. They’ll try to continue that gradual improvement into Region 9 play and make some noise in a crowded field.
Their first test will be at Crimson Cliffs on Wednesday, squaring off against one of the top-scoring teams from the preseason in the area.
While the boys team is loaded with question marks, the only one for the Panther girls squad seems to be, “How far will they go?”
They return one of the top post players in the state in Averi Papa and a supporting cast that will have them pushing for a state title after coming up just short a season ago. After a rise last season, they’ll have a target on their back: the Panthers received five first-place votes to top the combined media and coaches preseason poll.
“That’s the thing, everybody’s got us No. 1 and we’re supposed to be it, but Desert Hills beat us both times last year during region,” Pine View head coach Ben Luce said. “Last year, we had that luxury to come in under the radar and we did some good things. The girls need to learn to manage the expectations and that they don’t need to put any pressure on themselves to win every single game. Undefeated is not the goal. We just want to win those last three or four.”
Papa, who has committed to Dixie State, will still be the main threat for the Panthers and was named preseason MVP. Teams will have a hard time matching up with her six-foot, three-inch frame and general basketball talent. She can beat you in the post with rebounding and shooting, but also went 5-for-12 from the arc in the preseason.
Papa averaged a double-double through the preseason with 16.3 points and 10.3 rebounds a game. Right behind her scoring is fellow senior Alex Olson with 16.0 points a game.
Olson may get overshadowed some by Papa, but was a preseason first-teamer and provides an essential foil to Papa’s post play. She is the team’s primary shooter from deep, hitting on 15 of 37 3-point attempts in the preseason while simultaneously dishing out 3.4 assists a game, primarily to Papa. The duo gives Pine View maybe the most lethal scoring tandem the region has.
“Sometimes she’s the best player on the floor,” Luce said of Olson. “As good as Averi is, Alex has the capability of handling the ball, one-man press breaker, getting on fire.”
Senior Mady Jensen has provided some tertiary scoring, averaging 12.0 points a game. Tessa Taylor and Avery Gustin provide depth on the outside and Alyson Schmitt, Ashlyn Clark and Madi Olson help out in the post.
Pine View simply has options. It can switch between Papa and Alex Olson as primary scorer based on opponent. It can work inside and control the paint or move the ball and get outside chances.
The talent and experience is there for them. But Luce said Region 9 is always a challenge, and Desert Hills is going to be the biggest barrier to claiming the top spot.
“They’ve reloaded, they’re still at the top,” Luce said. “We set game-by-game goals and we’re not looking at the full season yet. Desert Hills is going under the radar a little bit, but they’re a dang good team. When you get into region games, it’s always going to be competitive.”
The Panthers host Crimson Cliffs on Tuesday to kick off Region play.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.