CEDAR CITY — Cedar High School’s basketball teams finished their preseason schedule on a high note, with the Reds girls and boys varsity squads each going 3-0 at home during last week’s Steve Hodson Cancer Classic.
Following are previews for both of Cedar High’s teams as they head into regular season play this week.
The two-time defending 4A state champion Cedar High girls basketball team, which defeated Region 9 rival Pine View in the state title game in Ogden on Feb. 29, lost all but one of its starters from that illustrious squad to graduation in 2020. But even that lone returning starter, senior point guard Logann Laws, has yet to play a game for this year’s Reds, as she has been recovering from recent surgery.
That leaves Cedar in somewhat of a rebuilding mode, a challenge that head coach Corry Nielsen is more than willing to accept.
After a rocky 0-4 start in the first few games of the preseason, which included road losses to larger schools Copper Hills, Ridgeline and Fremont, the Reds bounced back with three wins in three days at the Steve Hodson Cancer Classic last week. Cedar beat Stansbury, Tooele and Juab on successive nights to improve to 3-4 overall in preseason play.
“We played a very hard schedule, on purpose,” Nielsen said of the Reds’ grueling road trip up north Dec. 10-12, from which they came home winless. “And I think we kind of found out about ourselves. If we do things in the way that we’re supposed to do and execute while playing hard, I think we have a chance to be in every game.”
“Our players who’ve been in the program, they’ve been very successful all the way up, and they understand what it takes,” Nielsen added.
Senior forward Abby Davis, who saw significant playing time as a reserve on the state championship teams, is currently leading the team with an average of 10.6 points per game. She’s also made 14 3-pointers in the first seven games.
Just one point behind Davis in scoring is junior guard Braylee Peterson, who is averaging 10.4 points per game, in addition to leading the team in rebounds, assists and steals.
Nielsen said the Reds are also counting on the contributions of several other key players, including seniors Megan Allred, Grace Morales, Jacey Messer, along with junior McKell Kearns and sophomore Haylee Campbell, just to mention a few.
Unselfishness has been a major component of the team’s past success, Nielsen said.
“The biggest thing about that (state championship) team was we only had one idea in mind,” he said. “We didn’t have any personal agendas. The only thing that team wanted to do was to win as a team.”
Neilsen said team could’ve likely had four of five players average 18-20 points per game, “but they understood that if they’re going to be successful and win games, they had to put away their personal agendas and just have one team agenda. And to me, that’s the biggest thing that I take away, is they had one focus, and that was they would play as a team. It didn’t matter if they scored two points or 20 points, as long as we won the game. Then it was a success.”
Nielsen noted that another major adjustment this year will be playing in a nearly empty gym, instead of in front of energetic, boisterous crowds with the band playing loudly. He said that he hoped there would be a way to have at least some band members in attendance at the games.
“We’ll have to wait and see, but I think everybody at our school understands our band’s tradition of being our sixth man and how important they are, along with our fans in our crowd these past few years. They have been incredible. We kind of hope at some point that the band may come back in some small capacity.”
Nielsen said as it stands now, each team will have to bring their own excitement.
“It is going to be different, but you know, it’s still basketball. We are so excited and thankful to be able to play.”
The Reds open their Region 9 schedule Tuesday night at Snow Canyon, with tipoff scheduled for 7 p.m.
Cedar has plenty of familiar faces on this year’s boys basketball squad, as nearly all of last year’s starters and main contributors are back.
The Reds are off to a 5-2 start in preseason play, including three wins in three nights at last week’s Steve Hodson Cancer Classic.
Head coach Mark Esplin said the Reds are hoping to improve on last year’s campaign, during which Cedar went 17-7, ultimately losing to Desert Hills in the 4A playoff quarterfinals.
Dallin Grant, a 6-foot-7 center and fellow senior Luke Armstrong, who is 6-foot-8, are expected to continue to be dominant post players for Cedar. They are both averaging over nine points per game this season, and Armstrong leads the team in rebounding with 50 boards in seven games (a 7.14 average). They’re backed up by fellow big man Aaron Munson off the bench.
Meanwhile, senior guard Treyton Tebbs is leading the Reds in scoring with 21.3 points per game, more than double his average last season. Joining Tebbs in the backcourt are several other experienced guards, including seniors Jaron Garrett and Gaige Savage and juniors Ty Harrison and Zab Santana.
Cedar finished its preseason schedule with a four-game winning streak, scoring more than 70 points in each of the four victories.
“It’s really nice that we can score,” Esplin said. “Our problem is going to be, can we defend well enough when we get up against Desert Hills or Crimson Cliffs, who are also putting up 75 to 80 points a game? It’s going to come down to, I believe, who plays the best defense.”
Esplin said he’s been experimenting with different defenses to see which ones are most effective, particularly when the Reds’ tall lineup is factored in.
“We’re going to see which one gives us the best opportunity to win games that are quick,” he said. “We’ve struggled a little bit with that, but we’re trying to figure out ways to use our strength, which is our length, to our advantage. So we’ll see.”
As for having to play their games in front of minimal fans due to COVID-19 restrictions, Esplin said his athletes are just happy to be on the floor.
“It’s going to be different,” he said. “But for the most part, if we told these kids to go play on a Saturday at South Elementary, they’ll be there. They just want to play.”
Cedar opens its Region 9 schedule at home Wednesday night against Snow Canyon, with tipoff time scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
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