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BEST OF 5A: ALTA RUNNING OUT OF TIME

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Alta's biological clock is ticking. And with the passing of time, a talented group of Hawks are down to their last chance to take state.

Seniors Adam Sharp, Brad Willden, Brent Hawkins and Nate Carling, who have played together since fifth grade, hope to cash in on the big prize. Last year, a postseason loss to Highland, leading to a fifth-place finish at state, put a damper on a 22-2 season which included a national holiday tournament championship in Nebraska and the Region 4 crown."They decided right then and there that it wouldn't happen again," said Alta coach Ron Carling. "We were pretty disappointed last year. We had a good group."

The newest version of Hawks resembles much of the previous cast. Add junior starter Nate Knight to the mix with sixth man Lance Dahlquist and Alta (5-1) appears capable of contending once again.

A preseason straw poll of coaches tabbed Alta as the team to beat in the 5A ranks.

"I'll take it," said Carling. "I'd rather go in No. 1 than just hope to get in there."

Experience and athleticism compliment Alta's up-tempo offense and pressure defense attack.

Alta's toughest challenge for state honors may come from within Region 4. Mountain View and Brighton are as talented as any team in the state. Contenders elsewhere include Bountiful, Davis, Highland, Viewmont and Bingham.

Region 1

Perhaps things will change this season. After a disasterous state tournament, which saw all four league qualifiers fail to place in the top eight, the northern Utah circuit seemingly has nowhere to go but up. However, aside from Weber's 6-0 start the league is just 11-29 in preseason play.

Region coaches tab Bonneville, Layton and Weber as frontrunners with Clearfield, Fremont, Northridge and Roy expected to compete for the league's final playoff berth.

COACHES STRAW POLL (with current records): 1. Bonneville (3-4), 2. Layton (3-4), 3. Weber (6-0), 4. Clearfield (2-4), 5. Fremont (1-6), 6. Northridge (1-5), 7. Roy (1-6).

Region 2

All four state qualifiers placed last year with three teams reaching the semifinals. Highland claimed an improbable title with Davis County mates Bountiful, Viewmont and Davis each earning four postseason games.

Will the trend continue? Perhaps. The Braves and Vikings are still unbeaten at 7-0, while the Rams and Darts appear to be building momentum. All four teams have been ranked at one time or another this season.

Meanwhile, Cottonwood is the darkhorse.

COACHES STRAW POLL (with current records): 1. Highland (6-3), 2. Davis (4-4), 3. Bountiful (7-0), 4. Viewmont (7-0), 5. Cottonwood (4-4), 6. Skyline (1-6).

Region 3

The road to this league title goes directly through Bingham. Coach George Sluga's Miners are selfish when it comes to sharing league honors. And after losing their first state title game under Sluga's regime, motivation is at an even higher level in South Jordan - too bad for the neighbors.

Taylorsville is a solid choice to finish second with Hunter a likely candidate for third place. Granger and West Jordan are expected to engage in a heated race for the league's final playoff invite.

COACHES STRAW POLL (with current records): 1. Bingham (5-3), 2. Taylorsville (6-2), 3. Hunter (4-4), 4. Granger (3-4), 5. West Jordan (2-6), 6. Kearns (0-8).

Region 4

Divided into two divisions - contenders and pretenders. Alta, Mountain View and Brighton are among the finest teams in the state with Orem, American Fork and Hillcrest representing a somewhat mediocre lot.

Alta and Mountain View will likely fight it out for first with Brighton not far, if any, behind . . . Meanwhile, the final postseason berth could go to any of the other three teams.

COACHES STRAW POLL (with current records): 1. Alta (5-1), Mountain View (8-2), 3. Brighton (6-1), 4. Orem (2-5), 5. American Fork (3-6), 6. Hillcrest (3-4).