Selecting just 10 from all of the outstanding storylines from the 2013-2014 high school sports season is a daunting task. Here is my best effort at the top Utah Valley prep stories of the 2013-2014 high school year. Use the comments section to let me know what I missed.
1. Four Straight for Knights
A 2014 state tournament quarterfinal win over Bingham might sum up Lone Peak basketball’s TJ Haws as well as anything else, and it’s not just that he set a school record with 42 points that night.
The 2013-2014 Knights were not a mirror image of the national championship team of the prior season. This Lone Peak squad was more like the teams that Quincy Lewis is used to bringing to the state tournament. With it, the Knights won the Class 5A state title for the fourth consecutive year.
When the state tourney began, a number of teams lined up as major challengers to Lone Peak, which had cruised to the 2013 state championship behind an all-star cast. Davis, American Fork and a Pleasant Grove team that had knocked off the Knights earlier in the year, all figured to have a chance to stop the four-peat.
But it was Bingham, in the quarterfinal round, that nearly put an early end to this run for Haws and Lone Peak. A Kyle Gearig jumper that would have won it for the Miners at the end of regulation was slightly off target. Then Haws took the game over during overtime, willing his team an 82-79 double-overtime victory.
Sophomore Frank Jackson moved into Lone Peak to provide Haws a star sidekick for a team that graduated two D-1 talents from the prior year. Add in the spectacular effort plays from senior Zach Frampton, who had a big set of intangibles, and you had the makings of a team that would not be denied.
Wins over Davis and Pleasant Grove followed, but both games lacked the late-game drama of that quarterfinal, as Haws and company made the state tournament business-as-usual in title town. Haws hit 8-of-14 from 3-point range in the state championship game, while Frampton had his best game ever with 24 points and 10 rebounds. Haws scored 18 in the second quarter when the Knights pulled away from Pleasant Grove.
Three other teams had shared with Lone Peak the distinction of winning three consecutive state championships — Jordan (1953-1955), Gunnison (1972-2974) and Lehi (1996-1998). This 2014 title puts the Knights into the four-straight club all alone. Furthermore, the Knights have won seven of the last nine titles.
2. Timpview’s Fall Four
The Timpview T-Birds delivered four 4A state championships in the fall sports season alone, a result that may not be equaled for quite some time.
One team was a prohibitive favorite, another was considered the likely runner-up, one had the state’s top individual player and the other came almost out of nowhere, but they combined for a fantastic fall sports season at Timpview.
Winning state championships is hard, but there was some kind of magic in the water in Provo as the school year opened. The magic impacted the fall athletes in Thunderbird country. Timpview’s volleyball team was the favorite from the outset and it delivered in a big way come state tournament time .
The Thunderbirds were considered to be in the hunt all year in football, but most considered the team Timpview had knocked out in the 2012 semifinals, East, the team most likely to claim the 4A football banner. This, however, was a special season for the Thunderbirds, and with Britain Covey leading an over-achieving offense and a defense that made the necessary adjustments to shut down mighty East after intermission, Timpview defended its state championship on the gridiron.
We all knew that sophomore Kate Cusick was one of the best tennis players in the state, but that did not make it automatic that the Thunderbirds would win a team title in girls tennis. It turned out that, in a season without a dominant team in 4A girls tennis, Cusick’s first singles title, combined with just enough success in the other four brackets, was enough to take the top spot overall.
Outside of Josh Lillywhite’s sixth-place result, the state-champion Timpview boys golf team had no one else in the Top 10 individually, but placed three golfers between 11 and 20 individually. John Lillywhite (76-78) was 12th, Rawle (85-73) finished 18th, and Spencer Lillywhite (84-75) took 20th. Seniors Caden Dickinson and Garrett Darling struggled on Day 2, but their scores on Day 1 helped keep their slow-starting team in position to make a run when the youngsters caught fire Tuesday.
3. Unexpected Repeat
It wasn’t pretty, and it certainly wasn’t expected, but it’s starting to look like there is a magnetic attraction between the gym at Springville High and the 4A girls basketball championship trophy.
A seven-game losing streak early in the year dropped the defending state champion Red Devils to 2-8, but the team worked its way through injuries and a new head coach as Camie Oakey took on the unenviable task of replacing Nancy Warner, who had departed for Lone Peak.
But Springville got things figured out and rediscovered the magic as it won eight of its last nine games in the regular season.
Far from a favorite in the state tournament, the Red Devils needed overtime to win in Round 1 against Highland. With one of the front-runners, Bonneville, up next, it seemed that would be as far as Springville would go, but in a game that featured no field goals at all in two overtime periods, Savannah Park hit a pair of free throws in the second extra session as the Red Devils pulled off that upset.
Sophomore Lydia Austin hit a late game-winner to knock off another of the pre-tourney favorites, Timpanogos, in the semifinal round, and then it was Park at the charity stripe once again to ice the state title game against Skyline. Four low-scoring contests, four close wins and another state title banner hanging in the gym at Springville.
4. Changing of the Guard
A number of the state’s top boys basketball programs will have a new look on the sidelines when the 2014-2015 season tips off in late November. That’s because four of the state’s most respected coaches stepped down at the end of this season.
Even with all of that turnover on the basketball court, perhaps the most storied coach stepping down is Spanish Fork baseball coach Jim “Shoe” Nelson, who ran the dugout at his alma mater for 29 years, winning 572 games as the head coach. The Dons finished second in the state this year, just two wins away from sending Nelson out with his seventh state championship. His son Casey has been named as his successor.
Some of the biggest Utah Valley coaching news came from football, with new coaches who will not officially be in place until the new school year opens.
Louis Wong is one of the most decorated high school football coaches in state history, but left Timpview over fund-raising concerns. Now the four-time state champion coach is back on the sidelines after two years away. Mountain View is his new home.
Lone Peak’s Tony McGeary was away from the coaching game last season after similar concerns ended his time with the Knights. The 2011 5A state champion coach has resurfaced at Provo.
Two other schools have big-name coaching changes, as Lehi lured offensive-minded Ed Larson to make the jump from Timpanogos. The Timberwolves made a splash of their own, hiring former BYU assistant Joe Dupaix, the son of Utah high school coaching legend Roger Dupaix.
5. Coaches Go Out On Top
It was a quick three-year run for head coach Renae Kinghorn in the dugout with Salem Hills softball, but it was a productive three years. Kinghorn, who made the decision along with her husband to move to Georgia after the school year, held off on telling her team until after the Skyhawks, led by two-time Deseret News Ms. Softball Kirtlyn Bohling, won their second consecutive state title by sweeping two games from Bonneville.
Kinghorn had two championships in three years at Salem Hills, which also has the 2013 state baseball championship to its credit.
Another Utah Valley girls coach, Natalyn Lewis of Timpanogos girls soccer, also went out after a championship season. The former BYU soccer player elected to step down to spend more time with her family, having won three state titles in 10 years on the Timberwolf sidelines.
6. No. 2 for Mountain View Tennis
Just as they had done when they led Mountain View boys tennis to the 2013 upset win over dominant Timpview, sophomore Jon Dollahite and senior Manuel Ortiz owned first and second singles at the 4A state tennis tournament this season.
The Bruins made it back-to-back championships on the strength of the 12 points earned by those two individual state champions and just two other points to total 14. That number was big enough to hold off Maple Mountain, Woods Cross and Timpview.
Ortiz lost just three games in second singles as he rolled to his second straight tourney title, and Dollahite repeated against a talented first singles field without losing a set.
7. Wrestling Repeat
Led by champions Kyson Levin, Nelson Jones, Ben Anderson, TJ Wind and Zac Dawe, Pleasant Grove reasserted its dominance of Class 5A wrestling with its fourth consecutive state title.
Jed Loveless and Hagen Loveless were the two individual state title winners as Payson got back on top in Class 3A, a path that was aided by the move of powerhouse program Delta to 2A this year.
The 4A state tournament was one of the most interesting competitions of all. Defending state champion Maple Mountain won six individual state titles (Tanner Cox, Ryan Hansen, Trent Kelly, Taylor LaMont, Johnny O’Hearon and Kimball Bastian), but that was not enough for the Golden Eagles as Mountain Crest had superior depth and earned the team title.
8. Bulldogs’ Bittersweet Day
Provo freshman Naomi Soifua was expected to be one of the front-runners at the 4A girls golf championship, but the circumstances under which she played the state tournament were inspiring, to say the least.
The 15-year-old freshman captured the individual title on the day that her uncle John, who had been a golf teacher and supporter since she first started playing golf, passed away after battling a serious heart condition. Soifua won the individual championship and led her Provo team to the team title, beating out powerhouse programs that include Box Elder and Bonneville.
Soifua shot one-under-par to beat the nearest competitors by four strokes. Abbey Harward, Ciaran Burton and Hannah Miller were other top scorers for Provo, which took the team title by 11 points.
9. Softball Stories
It was 1997 when Lehi last won a state softball championship, and that one was in Class 3A. That was before this season, when left fielder Brooklyn Willes made a diving catch to close out Taylorsville as the Pioneers won the 5A state championship.
It was a state tournament that began with a bad luck and ended with a big celebration. Lehi lost out on a coin toss after sharing the Region 4 championship, and ended up playing its opener on the road as a No. 3 seed.
But sophomore pitcher Sydney White had an outstanding tournament run, supported by some outstanding defense. The Lehi hitters contributed heavily to the team’s success.
Kacie Fredenberger and Stephani Zimmerman both went deep in the semifinal win over Layton, and Lehi turned six hits into 14 runs in a come-from-behind quarterfinal win over Bingham as the Pioneers found scoring, defense and great pitching when they needed it. The big hit in the title game came off the bat of Terra Tahbo.
10. Chasing Porter Gustin
At last count, Salem Hills football star Porter Gustin had 40 Division 1 offers, with almost all of the major programs in the country having invited the 6-foot-5, 240-pounder to visit their campuses.
After moving in from Idaho for his junior year, Gustin made early waves in Utah Valley as a strong-armed quarterback. A broken arm cut short his season at that position. He focused on the other side of the ball, and it is as a linebacker that he is getting most of his college attention. These days, he is one of the most prized recruits in the 2015 class in the state.
Gustin played four sports for the Skyhawks. During the spring season, he was a hard-throwing pitcher for Salem Hills baseball team. He also finishing fourth in the javelin at the 4A state track and field championships.
Gustin will be a top story to watch as we head into the fall, as schools from the Pac-12, SEC and nearly every other conference await his decision.