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Sugar House Journal

Youthful Highland boys basketball team hoping to gel as season gets underway

Nov 26, 2019 16h50 ● By Josh McFadden

Highland’s Chris Rich will help lead the Rams’ basketball team this season. He is one of a few returning contributors from last year’s squad. (Photo courtesy of Audrey Hall)

By Josh McFadden | [email protected]

After finishing in a tie for third place in Region 6 a year ago, the Highland boys basketball team faces some big challenges as it looks to move up the standings. 

The Rams will do it with a lot of new faces, along with a couple of returning starters. 

Highland must replace last season’s top-three scorers, Christian Rich, Liki Makaui and Jackson Hawes. The good news is head coach James Boyce welcomes back Chris Rich. The senior tallied six points, two rebounds and two assists a contest a year ago. 

Fellow senior Nate Warr has some varsity experience. He contributed seven points and five rebounds per game last season. Sophomore Elijah Tolbert saw brief varsity action as a freshman but will be counted on much more this season. He led the team in scoring during its fall league. 

The rest of the squad is composed of new faces, but Boyce is optimistic about the team’s talent level.

“We are a young team but have a lot of good players,” he said. “We are pretty skilled with some nice athleticism and size. I am looking forward to seeing the progress of this team and the players.”

Last season, Highland reached the Class 5A state tournament, defeating Bountiful 71-60 in the first round. The Rams fell to Corner Canyon in the quarterfinals by the count of 64-50. Getting to the postseason is always one of Boyce’s objectives. However, this season, there’s no need to set that goal. The Utah High School Activities Association has instituted a Ratings Percentage Index, or RPI, system. This ranks teams based on their records, their opponents’ records and the records of their opponents’ opponents. Instead of the top four teams in each region making the state tournament, every team will qualify. 

Still, Boyce wants to do more than just participate in the tournament; he wants to win.

“As always, we want to have double-digit wins and single-digit losses,” he said. “We also have a goal of playing at the Huntsman Center, which means that we have won two playoff games.”

Boyce is referring to advancing to the semifinals where teams square off at the Jon M. Huntsman Center on the campus of the University of Utah for a chance to play for a state title. The Rams last reached the semifinal round in 2016. 

Highland opens the 2019-20 season Nov. 26 at home against Judge Memorial. The team then will take part in the Corner Canyon Tournament of Champions, Dec. 5-7. Boyce knows the team has potential, but it also has to come together in a hurry and make some improvements to compete. 

“We need to grow up quickly and need to really get better at our defense,” he said. “We need to be tougher.”