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TOOELE, PINE VIEW RETURN FOR RACE TO TITLE

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Last February, the Tooele and Pine View girls basketball teams played for the state high school championship in the 3A classification. Don't be surprised if there's a rematch for the title this year.

With the preseason winding to a close and region play set to begin next week, the defending state champion Buffaloes and the second-place Panthers appear to be the teams to beat again. Tooele, with star point guard Karie Johnson sitting out with a sprained ankle, lost to 4A Cyprus Wednesday night to drop to 5-1, but have nonetheless been impressive during preseason. Pine View High, in St. George, owns a glossy 10-0 mark thus far.While Tooele and Pine View are the early favorites, there are other teams with state championship potential, including Logan, Bountiful and Uintah, to name three. The 3A girls basketball state tournament will be held March 1-6 at Murray High.

Here's a closer look at each team by region:

Region 5

Logan, under coach Bryant McKay, finished fifth in the state a year ago. Logan has even higher expectations this time around. The Grizzlies are paced by 5-10 senior guard Shelly Whitteker and senior forward Jenni McGregor. Another fine addition to the team has been Heather Smith, a junior who moved to Logan from the Ogden High area.

Bear River is the defending region champ and has one of the most dominant players in the state in 6-4 center Monica Doman. Others to watch are junior guards Lara Sadler and Tabitha Garn.

Ogden should finish in the upper half of this seven-team region. The Tigers are paced by Kelly Vause and Rachel Geddes. Ben Lomond's hopes rest on the shoulders of two stars, Mindy Troxell and LeiAnne Shupe, both capable of scoring 20-plus points a night.

Mountain Crest could be a sleeper in this region. The Mustangs are led by Rachel Hester. Box Elder has one of the region's top players in guard/forward Laura Baird, who is just a junior. Finally, Sky View hopes to be much improved over last year's 2-16 team. With players like Jessica Sparrow and 6-3 guard Mari Burningham, the Bobcats should be better.

Region 6

Tooele went a perfect 14-0 in the region last season and then raced to the state championship. With many of the key players returning, a repeat is a distinct possibility. The Buffaloes may have the best backcourt duo in the state, any classification. Point guard Karie Johnson averaged 13.6 points per game last year to go along with 171 assists and 112 steals. Off guard Darcy Hayes averaged 16.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per outing.

Bountiful opened the year with three straight losses, but each game was against a top 4A team. If any club in the region can tame the Buffaloes, it would have to be the Braves. Bountiful has an experienced inside game with 6-footers Jenny Gardner and Amanda Walton leading the way. Two sophomores, Karrie Allen and Candie Pitcher, see much of the action on the guardline.

Jordan returns a pair of starters in forward Debbie Bilbao and point guard Brook Epperson. Murray placed fifth in the state last year. The Spartans will need big years from Sarah Burton and Gina Willey to go that far this time around.

Judge Memorial has one of the most prolific scorers in the state in Erin Hartigan, who, along with Carrie Christensen, should make the Bulldogs a team to be reckoned with. Woods Cross took some lumps early in the season playing tough 4A competition, but the Wildcats will be a factor in this region. Woods Cross is led by Molly Mason and Loe Leong, a 3-point shooter extraordinare.

West should be improved over last year's team that went 2-14 in the region. The Panthers have a couple of good players in Emily Olsen and Becky Zumbrunnen. Granite is likely in for a long season in this competitive league.

Region 7

Uintah appears to be the team to beat in this central Utah region. Opponents may have fits trying to guard Monica Reidhead, who made seven 3-pointers for the Utes in a 31-point outing against Spanish Fork last week.

Carbon has also played well during the preseason. Rachelle Jewkes is the Dinos' leading scorer and top player.

Emery had a talented, veteran team last year that went 20-3 and placed third in the state. The young Spartans already have five losses this year, but could put it together to compete for the region crown. Emery's top returning players are Shanna Ward and Krissy Childs.

Lehi could be a major factor in the league. The Pioneers have several veterans returning along with talented newcomer Deena Fullmer, a junior move-in. Wasatch may be the sleeper in the league, while Union may have a hard time being competitive.

Region 8

Pine View is clearly the cream of this, the I-15 league that includes three teams in Utah's Dixie and three in Utah County. The Panthers are deep, with veteran players like Mandi Shaheen and Tiffany Lott to go along with 6-2 move-in Misty Kirkland. Pine View is a serious state championship contender.

Pine View's St. George neighbor, Dixie, will also field a tough team with Sandee McArthur and Angie Cazier leading the way. Springville is improved and has a top point guard in DeDe Child, while off guard Melissa McCarty is also a returning starter.

Spanish Fork recently upset Union and is a threat to break into the upper half of the region standings. The Dons are led by guard Jodi Sheen, who was named MVP of the recently completed 3A volleyball season. Payson has little girls basketball tradition, but under coach Billy Gene Gonzalez, the Lions won seven games last season, a school record. Point guard Kris King is the team's top player. Cedar City has struggled in preseason play and will likely continue during the league season.