It was a banner year for Region 9.
Out of the 19 team state titles this athletic season, 14 of them found themselves back home in sunny St. George. Desert Hills lead the way with four state championships, Pine View and Snow Canyon each took home three, Dixie had two, and Cedar took home one.
Watching the season unfold was an experience of a lifetime. There were jaw-dropping individual and team performances, records smashed, highlighted with moments that exhibit what sports is really all about — lifting others up.
Sitting inside the Thunderdome on a Friday night in January, I was blown away after what I had just witnessed during a wrestling match between Desert Hills and Pine View.
With the Region 9 championship on the line — on top of senior night — Dallin Birch, a special needs student at Desert Hills fulfilled one of his lifelong dreams. The senior, who has been apart of the wrestling program for two years, got his chance to shine in the first match of the night.
When his name was called, Birch gave the fans a show that they will remember for a long, long time. Flexing his muscles, giving high fives to his teammates and a thumbs up to the crowd, Birch had everyone on their feet. After a tough battle, Birch came away victorious and when the match concluded, everyone was a winner.
In October, the Snow Canyon volleyball team — who went on to win the 3A title — surprised one of their teammates during a game against Hurricane. Snow Canyon’s Mallory Richey lost her mother to breast cancer and the team wanted to show their support for her.
When Richey walked out onto the court, both teams had pink uniforms on to honor breast cancer awareness month. That wasn’t all. On the back of each players uniform, the words ‘Richey’ were displayed and when the game was over, both sides took a group picture to highlight the night.
Last but not least, the support around the entire community in support of Britton Shipp was truly inspiring. Each high school game that I attended after his accident — which left him in a coma for weeks on top of multiple surgeries — I witnessed countless fundraisers to help support his rapid recovery. Rival schools came together in unity and displayed true sportsmanship.
It wouldn’t be a Region 9 game if there wasn’t any late game heroics. I could probably list off 100 games this year that went down to the wire.
There was Dixie’s Tyler Bennett who made the game winning shot against Pine View on the road, to give the Panthers their first loss of the season. Pine View got the last laugh after winning the state title over the Flyers.
Not to be left out, Snow Canyon and Desert Hills’ baseball teams went into “four overtimes” in an eleven-inning game during the 3A state tournament at Bruce Hurst Field. When the game was over, 26 runs were scored on 39 hits in a game that both teams deserved to win.
Speaking of Snow Canyon, the Warriors won another rugby title in dramatic fashion — its third title in the last five years. It was a battle of the nation’s top teams and it certainly lived up to the hype.
Down 15-13, the Warriors had one last shot with a penalty kick. With no time remaining, Sam Slivers, a senior and team captain stepped up and with what seemed like the weight of the entire world resting on his shoulders. Slivers took a deep breath, and with all of his might, crushed the ball straight through the uprights to give the Warriors a thrilling 16-15 victory.
“You dream about these moments,” Slivers said after making the game winning kick.
Moments that you don’t dream about, is what happened during a softball game between Snow Canyon and Desert Hills. Right in the middle of the third inning, the sprinklers came on in an attempt to cool off the red-hot lady Warriors who had a remarkable season.
The Pine View baseball won its first state title since 2003 and almost had to wait another year to do so after almost blowing a 9-1 lead against Cedar. The Panthers ultimately prevailed in a wild and wacky 13-10 game.
Speaking of championships, Pine View’s Lacy Hancock won her fourth consecutive singles title in a fitting end to a phenomenal career.
Although Dixie’s basketball team came up just short, the football team as well as the boys soccer team made sure to bring home state championships. The soccer team won its second consecutive title and the football team had one of the most explosive offenses in the state. After edging Pine View in the 3A football semifinal game on a cold and snowy night at Rice-Eccles stadium, the Flyers made snow angels to end the night in style.
Cedar and Pine View’s girl basketball teams had a season for the ages. The Lady Reds finished Region 9 undefeated with a 12-0 record — a first for long-time head coach John Elison. Meanwhile, the Lady Panthers had a season to remember after finishing last year without winning a single game. The Panthers won six of its first seven games and played their way into the 3A state playoffs.
The Desert Hills girls golf team won its sixth consecutive 3A title to continue to cement its legacy as one of the all-time great golf programs in the state. Katie Perkins, a senior and Utah Valley University commit won her third individual title in a playoff to remember against Pine View’s Taylor Bandley. Remarkably, the top six individual golfers all came from Region 9 to end a season dominated by southern Utah.
After an incredible year that completely surpassed all of my expectations and then some, I’m eagerly awaiting the start of the new high school season and the memories that are sure to follow.
Follow Justin Giles on Twitter @Justingiles22.