Highland boys basketball places second in region in successful season
Apr 11, 2018 11:23AM
● By Josh McFadden
Junior Richard Tialavea fouls East forward Jeremy Jiba as he goes up for a shot. (Travis Barton/City Journals)
When your team is runner-up in the region race behind only an undefeated state champion, it’s hard to be too upset about the season’s results.
That’s where the Highland boys basketball team found itself at the end of the 2017–18 campaign. The Rams placed second in Region 6 with an 8-2 record. Their only two league losses came at the hands of Olympus, the team that would go on the capture the Class 5A crown with an eye-popping 27-0 record.
Highland finished the season 15-7 overall and faced Corner Canyon in the first round of the 5A state tournament on Feb. 26. Things started off well for Highland, as it led 10-6 at the end of the first quarter and 30-18 at halftime. But Corner Canyon blitzed Highland 51-27 in a dominant second half.
“We went out in the first round to the eventual runner-up Corner Canyon,” head coach James Boyce said. “We were up 14 in the second half and collapsed a bit in that game. It was a little disappointing way to end, but overall it was a very strong year.”
Highland struggled from the field in the playoff games, hitting just 15 of 39 shots. The Rams did hold Corner Canyon to 43 percent shooting. Offensively, Highland got a team-high 14 points from Elijah Shelton. The 6-foot-8-inch senior added five rebounds and an assist. Senior Oscar Maxfield contributed 11 points, while junior Richard Tialavea added 10 points and five boards.
Despite the untimely state tournament loss, Boyce had plenty of good things to say about his squad. He was pleased with the way his players battled to earn a second-place finish in region play. He also noted his team’s athleticism, along with its defensive effort and the way his players crashed the glass for rebounds.
“This is the most athletic team I have ever coached,” he said. “They were tough players. We allowed the least amount of points for all of 5A, which I am very proud of. This is also probably my strongest rebounding team I have ever had. When you can defend and rebound, you have got a really good combination. My son Travis was a senior, so it was special to have him on the team as well.”
As he reflects on the season, Boyce will retain fond memories of beating archrival East in both meetings. Each victory came by just two points, and the 59-57 victory on Jan. 12 came when Liki Makaui hit a bank-shot at the buzzer, sending the home crowd into a frenzy.
As every high school coach deals with each season, Boyce will need to replace some key players from this year’s squad. He said the makeup of next year’s team will be different, but he’s eager to see what his returning players and newcomers can contribute.
“We will have a different team (next season),” he said. “This year’s team was really athletic and physical. Next year’s team I think will be a little more skilled. We have more ‘basketball’ players (kids who only do basketball). This year, we had quite a few football/basketball players, which was great; I encourage my players to play other sports.”
Makaui, a guard, and Christian Rich, a swing player, will be the team’s only returning starters, and Boyce will look to them for leadership. He also has high expectations for guard Bronson Olevao and swingman Jackson Hawes. All four players will be seniors next season.
“Makaui will be a three-year starter,” Boyce said. “Rich is the leading scorer from this year. Olevao is a really athletic defender and can run the floor and can finish very effectively. Hawes is strong and athletic; I expect him to improve a lot in the offseason.”