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The City Journals

Faster times, more hoops, pins and kicks as Huskies wrap up winter sports

Mar 29, 2021 11:19AM ● By Julie Slama

Hillcrest sophomore Isaiah Rayco, right, won a match against Mountain View at the 5A state championships. (Nick Pappas/Hillcrest High)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Hillcrest winter sports wrapped up a season like no other in the past—competing during a pandemic—and with it, gains were made in personal achievement and progress. Of those, freshman Lilly Hutchings took sixth place in the girls wrestling inaugural state championships that combined 1A, 2A, 3A and 5A classifications. 

The four student-athletes who participated in the first year of sanctioned girls wrestling were thankful for their own team and meets, and head coach Nick Pappas saw great progress. (See separate story.)

Boys Wrestling

On the boys’ side, seniors Max Greenwood and Andre Villanueva along with sophomore Isaiah Rayco took to the mats at the 5A boys wrestling state meet.

Greenwood, in the 220-pound category, ended up being in one of the toughest classifications, said head coach Nick Pappas. 

“Everyone was trying to avoid one of the best wrestlers from Box Elder so they went into other weight categories,” he said. “It just made it that much tougher in Max’s.”

As a four-year veteran, he won his second match, but dropped the first and third. 

“I’m just so proud of where he came from and the adjustments he’s made. He’s broken out of bad habits, took chances and became good on his feet,” Pappas said about the two-time state qualifier who finished fourth in Hillcrest’s division.

Villanueva has wrestled all three years Pappas has coached at the school. 

“He’s one of our most improved wrestlers. As a sophomore, Andre took his share of beatings against seniors until he found a technique that worked for him,” Pappas said. 

Villanueva finished sixth in the division at 285 pounds and lost his two matches at state.

Rayco beat a Mountain View wrestler on a mercy call in his second state match, but he lost in his first match to the eventual state champion from Payson.

“He’s a natural wrestler and will be a key guy going forward,” Pappas said.

With only four seniors on the team, Pappas is looking forward to working with returning 11 members on techniques as well as “taking chances and trusting themselves.” 

He said that in the offseason, many will join the kindergarten through eighth-grade program to wrestle for the Hillcrest High club team so they will gain more experience on the mats and take advantage of the new wrestling facilities at the school where student-athletes “take pride in it.”

Drill

Thirty-six girls showed resiliency during the COVID-19 pandemic, starting with auditioning during the pandemic and learning routines on their own last spring.

“This team is so incredible, so much fun, we saw so much improvement,” coach Chelsea Divine said.

This year, UHSAA introduced a new category—show—that combined hip hop, character and prop dances. So, the team added a jester dance to their repertoire, which they won at the Premiere Drill Classic, and competed in that as well as military and dance routines to snag a second place finish at region. Their military routine won the region and placed fifth at state. Also recognized was drill team member Paris Freebairn who earned academic all-state.

“I find the most value in military. It shows their skill level and talent. We have a very young team—23 are underclassmen, so they’ll come back next year and it makes me excited to see what they can do next season,” Divine said.

But it’s more than just placements, said Divine earlier in the season. 

“This team is really strong, they really had to bond in a different way, and I think now that we are able to come together, they value it so much knowing we could lose this opportunity at any point if we get shut down. I feel it’s actually encouraged us to appreciate it even more, and appreciate each other even more, and not take it for granted,” said Divine, who credited the leadership of her four captains and the support of parents. “Hillcrest drill is our family. It’s not just a thing we show up and do, it’s a huge part of who we are.”

Swimming

After graduating several top swimmers and having some not return for swimming this year because of the pandemic, coach Ryan Thierbach wasn’t sure about the outlook of the season, especially with limited time in the water following state and county COVID-19 guidelines.

“We had a very small, very young team,” he said, adding that some of those who opted not to return this year would have been “big contributors.” “Not being in the water for that month from early November to early December really hit us; it hurt us significantly. Honestly, though, overall, our season was successful as we progressed and improved through the region meet.”

With a fairly young girls’ team, an Instagram post spoke loudly of their accomplishments: “Shout out to our Hillcrest swimming ladies on their hard work this season. Every single girl achieved personal best times in their events.”

On the boys’ side, the 100-meter breaststroke was one of the most competitive races in region for junior Josh Arevalo.

“If we were in any other region, he would have finished in the top three,” Thierbach said.

Arevalo finished 11th with a time of 1:03.74, which qualified him for the state meet. At state, he swam 0.59 seconds faster in the preliminary heat to qualify for finals. In the event where a new state record was set and bettered by the top three finishers, he placed 16th.

“Next season with a new region will be more competitive on our level, and we may try to do more tri- or quad-meets,” Thierbach said, and added that several of his swimmers are multisport student-athletes so they’ll be in shape when the season picks up next year.

Girls Basketball

With the uncertainty of playing basketball during the pandemic, tryout numbers were low, and through the early season, games were rescheduled as the season got off to a late start following former Gov. Gary Herbert’s two-week delay in the start of winter sports.

However, first year head coach Matteo Dal Monte led three teams through practices and games and saw a lot of progress, as did Athletic Director Sally Williams.

“They’ve been really improving and getting better with each game,” she said. 

The Huskies got the last regular season win over Cottonwood, which seeded them 25th in the state playoff bracket. The girls took an early lead over Bountiful in the first round, but ultimately fell 63-35 to end their season.

“With not many seniors (three) on the team, we should have a more experienced team next year,” Williams said.

Boys Basketball

With eight wins this past season, six of those in region, the Huskies were seeded 22 and played against No. 11 Bonneville in the first round of the state playoffs. 

However, with sophomore guard and Hillcrest’s team leader in points and assists Maddux Albers sidelined with an ankle injury, the Huskies fell short of the win, losing 64-53.

“I look at the season as successful and disappointing at the same time,” head coach Brandon Sluga said. “The disappointment stems from not having enough time with the players with issues surrounding COVID (Sluga, himself, missed six games because of it), but it was successful in that we laid the groundwork for the program.”

Although he wanted the team to do better in region, they finished fourth—ahead of last place where region coaches picked the team. In the second half of the season, they came back to beat teams they lost to early on, including Highland and Murray, which Sluga said, “I’m pretty proud of those wins.”

“Statistically, we became a better defensive team, improving our rebounding and that’s important to us. We had better execution on offense and who to get the ball to at the right time,” he said. “It was exciting to see our progress as we became more connected as a team.”

Many of those team members—four of the top six or seven—should return next season when the Huskies play in a new region.

“I think we’ll be near the top if not at the top,” he said. “Those players played a significant role and laid a positive foundation for us.”

Three players—Albers, Cole Carlile and Max Willits—were honorable mention all-region players and four—Cooper Albers and Justin Sebahar along with Carlile and Willits—were honored with academic all-state awards.