MILLVILLE – Cache Valley is home to the two most dominant teams in Utah 4A basketball. The Ridgeline girls and Sky View boys teams have marched through the season and earned the first returns on their season-end goals – a Region 11 title.
Before the last week of the regular season, both the Riverhawks and Bobcats clinched the region title with wins on Thursday and Friday, respectively. As fate would have it, the Ridgeline girls defeated Sky View (which is second in the girls Region 11 standings) while the Sky View boys rallied to beat Ridgeline (second in the boys standings).
Both sides have been the top team in their respective RPI rankings since said rankings were first released and haven’t wavered one bit since. In fact, both Ridgeline and Sky View are undefeated against 4A teams, the Riverhawks being undefeated overall and the Bobcats’ only losses coming to 5A Olympus and 5A Murray.
Even in tough games in Region 11, the two teams have flexed their muscles, Ridgeline especially. The Riverhawks haven’t won a game by fewer than 14 points, even though Region 11 owns the top three spots in the girls basketball RPI. It’s an impressive run of form, but Ridgeline head coach Ainsli Jenks isn’t getting tied up in final scores.
“We haven’t been worried too much about score as much as the process,” Jenks said. “I think we’ve put in a lot of work on both ends of the floor and we’re starting to see some of that hard work take place.”
Neither of these teams were a surprise when it comes to their success. Both were the Region 11 favorites for girls and boys and both very much lived up to the potential. Those expectations haven’t fazed either team.
“When you start the season with a target on your back it only gets bigger as the season progresses,” Sky View head coach Kirk Hillyard said. “The big key is they’ve bought in defensively and then we’ve continued to work hard every day in practice and that carries over into the games.”
Ridgeline was a team that had already learned the harsh lesson on how paper expectations are never a guarantee.
“Any team will have expectations and what’s said on paper doesn’t just come to fruition,” Jenks said. “We kind of learned that a little bit last year. We were ranked number one in the RPI last year for most of the season and ultimately when it came down to it lost in double-overtime to a really good Desert Hills team. I think we learned from that knowing that even if it’s on paper it doesn’t necessarily mean (anything), you still have to put in the work and do the things that help you be successful.”
Winning the region title, as exciting as holding the trophy can be, isn’t the same as it used to be with the new RPI seeding of teams in the playoffs. It won’t really impact the Bobcats or Riverhawks since both are likely to be the top seed in both tournaments, both coaches are fully aware of the diminished value.
“It used to be quite a big deal to get that number one seed in the region going into the state tournament. But now with the RPI it doesn’t mean quite as much,” Hillyard said.
“I wish, actually, that the state would count for region titles a little bit as they put placement in the state tournament for teams. I think there should be some sort of advantage for winning your region,” Jenks said. “Especially, I feel like in our region it’s hard to win a region title. And when we can we feel a little bit lucky.”
That’s not to say the two teams weren’t excited to bring home some hardware. You could see it in the celebrations of each team after the crucial wins late last week. And the coaches themselves spoke of the meaning it does still have, especially for Sky View who hadn’t won region in several years.
“It’s pretty satisfying,” Hillyard said. “We haven’t had too many of those over the years here at Sky View. It’s nice. I know Ridgeline’s had the last three so it’s nice to knock them off the helm and be at the top of our region for a bit.”
The season isn’t over, of course. And a region title, while exciting, is just a stepping stone toward the final goal of the 4A state title. Being the top team only adds to the pressure since the expectation is for both teams to cut down the nets later this month. But for Ridgeline there’s an added level of pressure – that of completing an undefeated season. Jenks said they’ve “tried not to put that pressure on ourselves as far as being undefeated.”
“We never went into the season with the goal – none of our internal goals did we ever state being undefeated,” Jenks said. “It was never something we put out there. Obviously, we’re getting to the point where it’s one-and-done. We’re headed into the state tournament next week and so ultimately that’s going to be a part of our goal because we don’t want to lose one at the state championship games.”
The playoffs will begin on Feb. 21, although both of these teams will get the benefit of a bye and won’t play until the second round on Feb. 23 with 4A playoff games being played in the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum at Utah State University.