Park City and Wasatch will renew their in-region rivalry on Tuesday night
When Thomas Purcell took over as head coach of the Park City boys basketball team, one of his immediate goals for the upcoming season was to gain respect from the Miners’ rivals. That included both North and South Summit as well as main rival Wasatch.
“I told the boys at the very beginning of the season that one of our main goals was to win all of our rival games and reestablish ourselves in the area,” Purcell said. “Establishing yourself as the best team in your area is a big deal, so it’s important to beat the people around you. We haven’t beaten any of them in a while, so making sure we get that part done is just a step in the direction of which we are trying to take the program.”
Purcell and the 5A Miners are two-thirds of the way done with accomplishing that goal, having defeated 2A North Summit 70-57 on Dec. 13 before returning to the court four days later to take down 3A South Summit 58-36.
Now the Miners, who were 4-4 as of Thursday, prepare for their most intense rivalry game of the year when they host 5A Wasatch on Tuesday evening in a region matchup. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. from Park City’s gym.
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“Winning would for sure be a very nice victory for us, especially with it being an important region game,” Purcell said. “It’s no secret that Wasatch has had a lot of success in basketball over the years, so it won’t come easy. … But the way we’ve been playing and practicing, I think we are ready for the challenge.”
The Park City-Wasatch rivalry stems from the location of the high schools, as a mere 16.5 miles separate the two of them.
But more than the distance apart between the schools, the communities couldn’t be more different demographically. Park City i the more affluent community with its ski resorts and five-star restaurants, while Heber has traditionally been agricultural in character, though Wasatch County has felt the effects of Summit County’s growth.
The dichotomy between the communities and their respective high schools has formed this intense rivalry, which is now set to resume twice a year as both schools are now back playing in the same region. With the reshuffling of the UHSAA classifications, the Miners have recently jumped to Class 5A, rejoining Wasatch in the same region for the fist time in six years.
“I think it definitely adds to the rivalry with us now being in the same region, just giving it that extra something to make the fans more into it,” Purcell said. “This is a very natural rivalry that goes back a long ways, and it definitely means something to us, the fans and the communities. So yeah, of course we want to win and not only get that big region victory, but also one for everyone who’s there for us.”
The rivalry has been one-sided over the past decade, though — and not in Park City’s favor. The Miners have lost eight of their last 10 matchups to the Wasps since 2010, including three in a row.
During that time period, Wasatch has outscored Park City by an average score of 62-51, including a -19.5 scoring margin over the past two seasons.
“It’s obvious that we haven’t had the best of luck with Wasatch for a awhile, which is what it is but it’s our job to change that,” Purcell said. “Every game for us has been a close game, and if you don’t end up playing well, you end losing by a lot. We are going to have to play well no matter who we play, and it just happens to be Wasatch up next.”
Led by senior Mark McCurdy’s 12.4 points per game and junior Adam Spink’s 11.1 points per game, the Miners are off to their best start in five years — a big accomplishment under the first year head coach. McCurdy is also averaging 3.6 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game while fellow senior Alex Fugate is the main post presence, averaging 6.9 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.
Before Park City can think about the postseason, hoping to make a return trip for the first time since the 2014-15 season, all of the Miners’ focus is on gaining respect.
And that will only continue with a victory on Tuesday night.
“When we talk about being a team and gaining respect, we talk about doing so by keeping our emotions in check, especially in games like these,” Purcell said. “The only way to get respect is lace our shoes up and beat them for 32 minutes on the court. I told the guys that I’d take a couple of technical fouls over being the ‘soft kids from Park City.’ … And if that’s what we have to do to play the way we want to play, I get it and I’m all for it.”
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It’s going to be at least another month before Summit County’s high school athletes have any chance of getting onto the field again.