The South Summit High School basketball team started practicing a little later than normal this season.
That's because several key players, including seniors Steven Flinders, Brad Richins and Victor Thornton and juniors Bracken Santos and Ty Jones were busy winning a state championship as members of the football team.
Because of that, basketball coach Dusty Hatch was worried that perhaps some of his players wouldn't be as focused on basketball.
Fortunately, he said, that hasn't been the case at all.
"By what we've done in practice, the kids seem committed and engaged, especially on defense," he said. "If they keep that mentality, I really believe we have an opportunity to be right there [at the top of 2A] at the end."
Hatch credits a summer trip to Kansas for instilling confidence in his squad.
"Over the summer, we played a lot of games," he said. "We went to Kansas and spent a week out there doing some barnstorming. We played some really good teams and it gave the guys the confidence to play some bigger schools and better teams [in Utah]."
That experience will be crucial, since South Summit's non-region schedule doesn't offer many easy games.
"We have one of the toughest schedules in South Summit history," Hatch said. "We play seven 3A schools and two 4A schools. But the boys have bought into the fact that they're good enough to compete against these schools."
With a senior-laden starting lineup, Hatch is confident that this year's Wildcats team will be very competitive when it comes to region play.
"This should be one of my better teams, I hope," he said. "I have three returning starters, including Beau Rydalch, who is starting for the third year. So I've got some experience there."
Joining the 6'6" senior in the starting lineup will be Flinders, Richins, Thornton and Santos, all of whom bring different skill sets to the squad.
"Santos gives us something that we haven't had in a long time," Hatch said. "He's a point guard who can penetrate and dish the ball we haven't had that in several years.
Santos will have plenty of options when it comes to passing Hatch expects the scoring load to be fairly evenly distributed this year.
"This year, we still expect Beau to score," he said. "But Steven and Brad have gained confidence. They're comfortable with their offensive roles. So Beau's scoring average will probably go down a little bit because theirs will go up."
There will still be plenty of points to go around, though.
"We'll probably score more this year than in the past," Hatch said. "We'll do a faster tempo offense. We haven't been able to do that in the past few years because we've had to slow it down because of the lack of a penetrating point guard."
And, with the inside-out style of play from both Rydalch and Richins, the Wildcats will be tough to guard.
"Brad's an anomaly," Hatch said. "He can score in the post or he can step out and hit three-point shots, which makes him hard to defend. Beau's the same way. He likes to play on the perimeter, but he's tall, so you can also put him in the post."
In order to ensure that both Richins and Rydalch get to play both post and perimeter spots, Hatch is tweaking the offense a little bit.
"We're going to run a four-out, one-in offense," he said. "With Beau and Brad, we can run it with either one of them in the post. Hopefully that keeps them content we don't want them to fall in love with the three-point line."
For an aggressive post presence to replace Porter Lewis, who graduated last year, Hatch will rely on Thornton.
"The one [senior from last year] we'll miss most is Porter Lewis," Hatch said. "He wasn't an outstanding player, but we'll miss his toughness. Victor Thornton is going to have to fill that role. Porter was a junkyard dog. We expect Victor to have that energy and grab some rebounds. That's why he'll be in the starting lineup."
If everything falls into place for the Wildcats, Hatch expects the team to be competitive, even in a tough region.
"I think our region is probably the strongest [in 2A]," he said. "Manti and Gunnison will be good. North Summit will be good. I don't know much about Summit Academy and [American Leadership Academy]. But, Manti and Gunnison will probably be the toughest competition."
But, despite a solid stable of good 2A teams, Hatch is optimistic.
"2A this year is probably more even than it has been in several years," he said. "It's really up in the air. [Our success] depends on whether the boys stay committed and focused."
The South Summit Wildcats will be in action at the Pepsi Classic this weekend at Ben Lomond High School. Catch them at home on Dec. 28, when they take on Park City High School at 7 p.m.