ST. GEORGE – When it comes to sports, it’s often easy to define the highs and lows. After all, every sport crowns a champion in one form or another.
But unlike news stories, which are often spontaneous and unintended, sports champions cannot be crowned without the years, even decades, of hard work and sacrifice. And just like in life, sometimes the extreme effort and sacrifice aren’t enough as teams and athletes fall just short of their goals.
The St. George News sports department was there to witness the thrill of victory and, at times, the agony of defeat. Thanks, Southern Utahns, for letting us be a part of it all.
Below is a list of some of our favorites from 2015. It is not a comprehensive list — there were too many great moments to list them all. But it is a good list, to be sure.
A special thanks goes to the coaches, athletic directors, principals and media liaisons who provided us access to these stories.
2015 — A year of excitement (List is in reverse chronological order, starting with the recent Las Vegas Bowl — click on headlines to go to archived story)
BYU and Utah hadn’t met on the gridiron for two years, but the committee for the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl decided to rectify the situation. The game left both teams’ fans dissatisfied. Utah led 35-0, then laid an egg the rest of the game. However, the five-touchdown lead was just enough.
BYU football coach Bronco Mendenhall resigns, Kalani Sitaki tabbed as replacement
Mendenhall seemed ready to go when the University of Virginia came calling and he accepted the Cavaliers’ job offer after 11 years at the helm of BYU. Sitake, a former player under legendary coach LaVell Edwards, was named head coach a few days after Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo decided he would stay with the Midshipmen.
Underfunded and out of time, Dixie State’s second head coach in the Division II era resigned in November. Brumfield, a former NFL player, had battled cancer and diabetes while at DSU, but his commitment to his alma mater never waivered. However, after another disappointing season in the win/loss column, Brumfield announced his resignation. A moth later, Shay McClure was named as the new head coach for the Red Storm.
Under head coach Ed Lamb (who has since been hired as an assistant at BYU), the Thuderbirds have improved each season and this season ended with a Big Sly Championship. The celebration was short-lived, however, as Southern Utah was eliminated from the FCS playoffs a week later in a close loss to Sam Houston State.
The Flyers were hot heading into the playoffs and swept through the quarterfinals and the semifinals. But Dixie had no answer for athletic Logan quarterback Hunter Horsley in the 3AA championship game. The Grizzlies senior ran and passed for 436 yards as Logan captured the 3AA title after dropping down from 4A.
The Diamondbacks, given the nature of the rehabilitation-based school, have struggled in the playoffs in the past. But DRA kept most of its team intact for 2015 and it showed with a perfect season and the 1A state championship.
Barney had signed to play for Weber State University after his LDS Mission, but a series of events led to his decision to stay in St. George, where he starred for Dixie High, and play for the Dixie State Red Storm. At DSU, he was reunited with high school coach Blaine Monkres, who had been hired as the DSU offensive coordinator. The reunion obviously worked well.
The returning-champion Warriors had the best player in the state (Crash Parker) and plenty to play for with head coach Alaina Parker announcing her retirement from coaching, effective at the end of the season. But the Trojans had one thing on their minds — revenge. Morgan made up for their loss to SC in 2014’s title match by sweeping the Warriors and ending the year 31-0.
The St. George Marathon has become an integral part of the identity of St. George — it’s tradition now. And almost as big a tradition is the domination by Aaron Metler and Amber Green. The two St. George residents won their third SGM titles despite a growing interest in the race internationally.
Lisa Wolfley is strong. The 47-year-old Washington County resident proved it to the world by winning the “37th World Armwrestling Championship,” in Malaysia last October. Her story, from down-and-out drug addict to world-class athlete, is the stuff movies are made out of.
Utah was picked fifth — in their division — in the Pac-12 heading into the season. But the Utes served notice they would be a force to be reckoned with when they went into Eugene, Ore, and walloped the nationally-ranked Ducks.
Tanner who? Tanner Mangum, that’s who. The BYU freshman, fresh off an LDS Mission, completed a Hail Mary to Mitch Mathews from 41-yards out as time expired as the Cougars stunned the Cornhuskers in the teams’ season-opener. Mangum would go on to have the best freshman year of any quarterback to have played at BYU.
All the pieces were in place for the Thunder to have a big season. An experienced quarterback, speedy receivers and a dynamic running back seemed like a perfect formula. But just four plays into the 2015 season, Sewell, who also plays defensive back, collided with a Jordan High receiver. The injury didn’t seem that bad at first, but X-rays after the game showed broken vertebrae in the running back’s back. Just like that, his season was over.
Snow Canyon Little Leaguers make it to regionals, lose to Hawaii
Even the best high school athletes rarely get on national television. But Snow Canyon’s Little League team did it a couple of times. Baseball fans from around Utah watched and hoped for the best for the Santa Clara boys. But after a regional-opening win over Arizona, Snow Canyon was swept out of the tournament with consecutive losses to Southern California and Hawaii.
The Lions went through the season undefeated, including a win over the Wasatch Revolution in the Sunbowl. But the championship game went south in a hurry as Wasatch forced Zion into multiple turnovers and dared the Lions to pass the ball. Ultimately, Zion couldn’t get it done.
The old baseball field at Dixie High was Don Lay Flyer Field. But with the construction of a new field, mostly through donations, Dixie coaches and administration elected to name the new field “Flyer Field” and commemorate Dixie legends like Lay and others with a “Wall of Honor.” Apparently that wasn’t good enough for some of Lay’s descendants and former friends, who have petitioned to keep the old name. The controversy still swirls today.
Brian Beckstrand, a former basketball star and lover of Spartan races, decided he’d take a shot at the made-for-TV athletic event, “American Ninja Warrior.” Beckstrand not only competed, but also completed the course and advanced to the semifinals in Las Vegas. That’s where the road ended for the St. Georgian, but Beckstrand has vowed to return better than ever.
DSU softball makes national tourney, comes up one game short
For the second straight year, Dixie State’s softball team played at an extremely high level. But for the second straight year, the dream came up just short for the Randy Simkins-coached Division II team as the Red Storm lost in the NCAA D-II championship to North Georgia. DSU finished with a 52-8 record.
With Dace Goulding at the helm, Desert Hills track and field (and cross country) has become very good — of dynastic proportions. The Thunder athletes showed just how good at the state track and field meet at BYU last spring. The DH boys team set a new state record for points and the girls team beat all competitors by nearly 40 points, despite rain and cool weather in Provo.
Pine View had an impressive pitching staff in 2015, but it took a whole lot of hitting for the Panthers to take the 3A crown in the state title game against region rival Cedar. PV had a 9-1 lead, but then surrendered the advantage by allowing the Redmen nine runs in the fifth inning. Kash Walker had the go-ahead hit, almost exactly a year after his dad, Darin Walker, passed away.
It was almost a foregone conclusion that Desert Hills would win the girls golf title and they did, making it five straight. But Katie perkins, going for her third straight individual state title, had to gut out a one-hole playoff with Pine View’s Taylor Bandley. The high-drama playoff ended with Bandley just missing a 10-foot putt after Perkins had already holed out with a par.
Will Benson led the Warriors boys tennis team to the state title, winning gold at second singles, while the SC rugby team, technically a club sport not officially sanctioned by the UHSAA, edged out Herriman 16-15 for the state title on a 40-yard penalty kick with time expiring.
Burt Myers coached the Dixie boys soccer team to its third state title in the past four years as the Flyers beat Pine View 3-0. Ethan Poulton had a shutout, his sixth of the season, in the title game and two-sport superstar Tyler Bennett scored two goals. After the game, Myers now famously said, “You can’t go wrong when you got the big rock.”
The game was big, certainly, but the moment, the play may have been even bigger than that. After all, it’s not very often that a soccer player strikes and scores from 65 yards out. That’s what Ethan Baer did for the Panthers, with his goal helping Pine View into the state championship game.
Despite throwing a chain in the bike stage, Englishman Tim Don came away with the Ironman 70.3 in early May by excelling in the 13.2-mile running stage. Heather Wurtele won the women’s side of the race.
Haley Dunn used an extra playoff hole to come away with the individual medalist honor at the Pac West Conference championships at Sunbrook Golf Course. DSU’s men’s team, led by Cody Wass, won the team title.
Dixie Rebels owner and head coach Dale Stott knew his team brand needed a reset. He also hoped to capture a little bit more community support. A name change and a venue change did the trick as the Rebels became the Zion Lions and a rejuvenated Dixie Sunbowl became their new home.
Stars Zach Robbins and DeQuan Thompson had their senior seasons end abruptly at the hands of Cal Poly Pomona as the Broncos nailed a buzzer-beater in the West regional playoff game. DSU ended the season with a 20-8 record.
Two rivals staged another epic game, this time in West Valley City, with the Panthers and state MVP Kody Wilstead coming away with a 46-43 victory and the gold trophy signifying the state championship. Wilstead had 15 points and 15 rebounds, the last one on the offensive end as time ran out.
It was a game not many in attendance will ever forget. There were big shots, for sure, but the game was more notable for all the missed shots in the last minute of regulation and the first three overtimes. Both teams had opportunities to end it, but could not. The Flyers pulled away by hitting free throws in the fourth OT.
Sports fans really should experience a state wrestling meet. There are huge crowds, plenty of pomp and circumstance and some intense wrestling. Amid all that, Stevenson brothers Cody and Tyler and Cedar grappler Dallin Brooks were able to come away with state championships at Utah Valley University.
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