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Surviving Southern Utah’s Region 9 hoops hotbed

By Kurt Johnson

Photo by Gary Higgins

 

Other than a Hurricane state title breakthrough in 2012, the 3A state champions of recent vintage have come from the northern part of the state, but the depth of Region 9 makes winning that league these days almost as difficult as the state tournament.

“I don’t think our top teams are necessarily better than the top teams up north, but overall from top to bottom, I think we’re stronger,” said Desert Hills head coach Wade Turley. “We kind of beat up each other. You’d think that’s going to prepare you for the better teams at state, the better teams up north. I think most years it does. I also think some years, you spend so much time beating the crap out of each other and get totally exhausted and beat up, by the time you get to the state finals, you’re not the same team.”

Kody Wilstead and Pine View survived the Region 9 gauntlet this season, winning the league title. (Photo by Gary Higgins)

Kody Wilstead and Pine View survived the Region 9 gauntlet this season, winning the league title. (Photo by Gary Higgins)

Each year, it just seems to get more competitive down south. This year, the seventh-place team in the region, Canyon View, took league champion Pine View to overtime twice before providing the margin by which the Panthers took the title outright when it knocked off second-place Desert Hills.

“You can argue that it’s one of the best regions in sports, top to bottom,” said Pine View head coach Darrell Larsen. A lot of people already said congratulations because winning the Region 9 title outright is almost like winning a state championship. I call it the ACC of high school.”

Region 9 is a league filled with outstanding shooters, but one of the characteristics that stands out is the physical play. Larsen also notes that, for the past two years, the size of the league raises the degree of difficulty.

“If you make it out of this region without injuries, you’re lucky because it’s just so physical,” Larsen said “Seven teams for four spots, where other regions are like five for four.”

Community support is a big help for the schools in Region 9, but it can also heighten the level of pressure and the expectations.

“It’s incredible to me to talk to people in the stands at a game but don’t have any son or daughter or no grandson, but they just want to be part of that environment,” Turley said. “There’s just a high intensity to be the best so there’s a lot of pressure on kids and they’re putting in the time. There’s a lot of pressure on coaches when you have that many people interested in your programs and how they’re doing.”

The satisfaction that comes from competing with his friends in Region 9 basketball helped Pine View star Kody Wilstead decide to delay the start of his mission a few months so he could play one last season.

“I think that everyone down here is so competitive because we’re so close together, all our schools are so close and we grew up playing with each other on teams before St. George grew even bigger,” Wilstead said. “We don’t want to lose to our friends so it just makes it really competitive between us all. There really isn’t a bad team in Region 9. It really helps us out in the state tournament. Our four seed, who is Cedar, is like a one seed in any other region and even our non-seeded teams are seeded in other regions. It’s just that big of a difference, I think.”

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