Like most 3A coaches, Hurricane's Daniel McKeehan knows that to win a 3A state title in volleyball the Tigers will probably have to deal with Morgan. The top-ranked Trojans are undefeated against 3A opponents and have beaten most of the 4A and 5A schools they've played this season.
But the second-ranked Tigers can't worry about the volleyball powerhouse just yet.
"Morgan is four games down the road, if we're lucky," McKeehan said. "Right now, I'm worried about North Sanpete."
Hurricane faces the Hawks, who are a consistently solid program, in the first round of the 3A Tournament, which starts this Friday at 8 a.m. at Utah Valley State College's McKay Events Center. The 2A Tournament starts at the same time and place, while the 1A Tournament begins at the McKay Events Center on Thursday at 3 p.m.
Hurricane has the advantage — or disadvantage, depending on how one looks at it — to be playing several hours from the nearest competing region. Located in southern Utah's Iron and Washington counties, Region 9 has four schools in 4A and three schools in 3A for the playoffs. The regular season, however, pits these schools against each other, just as in years past.
While McKeehan likes being somewhat of a mystery to most 3A coaches, he knows they're not an unknown to the Hawks.
"I know North Sanpete knows all about us," he said. "They're very well-coached, and she's going to have her girls ready to go. It's going to be a tough match."
Not much of a reward for winning the 3A Region 9 title.
The Tigers are led by junior setter Megan Clyde and have solid athletes in senior outside hitter Natalie Hoyt and freshman middle blocker Kalistina Takau. Like most teams, they are playing with some injuries. Takau is playing with a torn ACL (she uses a brace), and Hoyt had to have an emergency appendectomy just 2 1/2 weeks ago.
Luckily for Hurricane, Morgan is in the opposite bracket, but neither team can take anything for granted.
Morgan has been the top-ranked 3A team all season, and with a recent victory over powerhouse Rich, the Trojans look ready to challenge for that title. They're led by setter Kelsey Rees and powerful hitter Chelsea Garfield. The Trojans take on Judge Memorial, a squad that could surprise with its athleticism.
Third-ranked Carbon has been consistent all season and earned the Region 8 title without a loss. The Dinos face Logan in the first round of the tournament and could face Uintah, which tied for the Region 10 title with Waterford but lost the coin toss, or Ben Lomond, a squad that has had one of its better seasons in recent history.
Waterford tied for the region title with Uintah and is ranked fourth, and the Ravens will start with Bear River, a solid program that has a lot of new faces this year. The Ravens are led by setter Missy White, who recently broke the state's career assist record.
Park City and Juan Diego have been in and out of the rankings and could challenge as well.
How tough is Region 12 competition? Consider this: San Juan sweeps South Sevier in their first region meeting. Richfield beats South Sevier and North Sevier in both region matches but fails to beat San Juan in either match. North Sevier and South Sevier both split with San Juan in region play.
Meanwhile, Grand may be the best fifth seed ever to enter the 2A state tournament. San Juan finished with a win over Richfield and was the preseason favorite to repeat as state champions. The Broncos are led by junior outside hitter Heather Meyer, last year's 2A MVP.
"Our region is so tough," said North Sevier coach Jill Porter. "It depends on the day which team is going to get the win."
The Wolves will face Millard in the opening round and are led by a solid core of experienced players, including Jesilyn Gurney, Chanda Hallows and Melissa Porter. If they win, they face either Layton Christian or Manti in the second round. The Eagles, who just moved up from 1A to 2A competition, are an athletic squad that split with North Summit for the region's top honors.
The Braves lost the coin toss and will face Grand in what will likely be the best match of the first round. Beaver and Enterprise also split during region play and both face tough first-round opponents.
In this year's 2A tournament, there is only one sure bet — that the competition will be fierce for that title trophy.
While the 2A race is too close to call, the same cannot be said of the 1A Tournament. In fact, despite losing all but one of its starters, Rich is still the favorite to repeat as state champions. The Rebels are led by junior outside Allie Eastman and senior setter Olivia Johnson, the only player to return with varsity experience.
With that said, Panguitch and Piute probably have the best chance at upsetting the Rebels this season. The Bobcats are tall and talented, and for the first time in many years, they could avoid Rich until the finals.
The 1A brackets won't be completely set until Wednesday night when the last of the play-in matches are completed. Teams will play those games Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to decide which teams will travel to Orem.
The Rebels will face the winner of the Piute vs. West Ridge/Green River match, while second-ranked Panguitch will face the winner of the Monument Valley/West Desert match, which is being played Tuesday.
The 1A championship match is scheduled for Friday at 7 p.m.