By Coulson Kunz
Photos by Coulson Kunz and Kevin McInnis
The Skyridge Falcons are now done with their inaugural boys basketball season in north Lehi. The team is highlighted by a host of stars including Chase Berry, Marcus Draney, Braydon Cuff and Jensen Hawkins, but the most important part of their team thus far has been head coach Jeff Gardner.
Previously the head coach at Brighton High School in Sandy for five years, Gardner is a defensive genius. During the 2012-13 season, he led the Bengals to a second-place finish at the 5A state tournament as his team allowed just two opponents to score more than 70 points all year and just six scored more than 60.
That same defensive mindset has carried on with him at Skyridge, where the Falcons have allowed 70 points or more six times and 60 points or more 10 times in their 22 games.
“In order to be consistently good, you have to be good on defense,” Gardner said. “There are going to be ups and downs and lulls in the offense.”
Gardner led Brighton to the state tournament five straight years and the state championship three of those five years. Why would he leave such a successful program?
He had a few reasons for leaving Brighton for the Skyridge job, which included the challenge of starting and building a new program, being in the community in which he lives and teaching and coaching at the school his kids will attend. The challenge of opening a brand new school and being the first head coach brings lots of stress and expectations. The community expected to win games as soon as the season started with the amount of talent that Gardner had been given.
Since 1994, among first-year schools in 4A and 5A, Riverton was the most successful team, finishing 13-9 overall and 8-6 in region (good enough for fourth place and a state tournament appearance). The Falcons finished the season 12-11 overall and 6-8 in region play. With his first year as head coach at Skyridge almost over, Gardner compared his first year at both schools but couldn’t find many similarities.
He described success at a first-year school as, “Bringing together different kids who haven’t really played together and getting them to gel.” According to Gardner, the biggest challenge is getting organized and creating a culture.
“Anytime you’re a first year school, it’s hard to establish a solid culture,” Gardner said. “Both schools have unique challenges.”
That can be hard to establish the first season, especially competing in Region 7. Both Timpanogos and Timpview tied for first place at 12-2, with the rest of the schools not far behind.
With a 6-8 record in Region 7, all but one of the Falcons losses have been decided by five points or less. In addition, three have gone into overtime, with one leaving the Falcons on the losing end of a fifth overtime.
“Top to bottom, this is the best region I’ve coached in,” Gardner said. “Not a lot of differences between teams one through eight.”
Gardner has been known and respected statewide as one of the best coaches around and looks to keep the success going for many years. With all the talent and senior leadership his team possesses, the upperclassmen look to pass down the newly established culture of Skyridge basketball to the younger members of this team.
Just knowing that Gardner led the Brighton Bengals to five straight state tournament appearances, getting deep in each one should have the Skyridge students and community excited to see the potential he has with the Falcons in the future.
Skyridge High student Coulson Kunz wrote this story as part of the Preps Utah student journalism program, powered by Bank of American Fork, which will award two of our published student journalists college scholarships at the end of the school year.